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End-Of-Game Snafu Sums Up A Sloppy Cowboy Loss


ARLINGTON, Texas – Rarely will you see the final 14 seconds of a game so largely overshadow the 59:46 that came before it, but that's a testament to the chaos on display at the end of this Cowboys playoff loss.

This 23-17 defeat at the hands of San Francisco took so many turns over the course of Sunday afternoon, it's hard to keep track. But the lasting imagine will be that of Dak Prescott desperately trying to spike the ball as time expired on his season.

"In hindsight, yeah, I could've went down sooner if I'd have known all of that was going to play out that way," Prescott said. "But I also think, if I don't get hit from behind, it's clean and we're clocking the ball with – at minimum, a second. If not two or three on the clock."

To reset the scene: Prescott had driven the Cowboys from their own 20-yard line to 49er territory in a last-gasp attempt to find a game-winning touchdown. With 14 seconds to play and no timeouts remaining, he took off on a quarterback draw that was designed to put them in position to run a play with a higher probability of success than a Hail Mary.

"We wanted to get a little bit closer and have a chance to maybe dial up, not necessarily a Hail Mary, but a play we've got schemed," Prescott said. "A play we've repped in practice time and time again. And we had one getting ready in that situation."

Prescott slid down at the San Francisco 24-yard line with eight seconds to play. And while he said he lined up behind Tyler Biadasz to spike the ball with four seconds left, he wasn't counting on the game's umpire to collide with him while setting the ball for play.

"Honestly, just got hit from behind," he said. "When I gathered myself and saw two seconds, I thought I could get the snap and get it down before time expired. I'm not sure exactly what happened other than that."

Everyone knows what happened next. Prescott eventually spiked the ball as time expired. After conferring briefly on the field, the game officials ruled that the game was in fact over – a decision that caught Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy off guard.

"The communication that I was given on the sideline was that they were reviewing it, they were going to put time back on the clock, McCarthy said.

It was a bizarre way to end a playoff game, and there's no doubt it's an ending that will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many, including Prescott.

"I knew he was going to come in and touch the ball, we can say he needs to be closer to the ball or whatever," Prescott said. "In hindsight, it's just tough. Tough to accept."

Several fans had a tough time accepting it, as well. As the teams and officials exited for the tunnels, footage of fans hurling debris at the field could be seen on the game broadcast. Prescott initially was disappointed in fans for their behavior – but, when he learned the frustration may have been geared toward the officials, seemed to change his tune.

"Credit to them, then," he said. "Credit to them."

That might be the most obvious example of frustration with NFL officiating that the Cowboys have shown in a season that has been littered with them.

This is the third time this season the Cowboys have played an ugly, disjointed, ref-heavy game at AT&T Stadium, along with their losses to Las Vegas and Arizona. The Cowboys were flagged 14 times on the night, setting a franchise record for highest number of flags in a postseason game.

For his part, McCarthy said he didn't think his team was undisciplined.

"I thought they would let these teams play today, but that's for them to answer and I'm sure they'll have their comments on how they felt the game was officiated," he said.

Quibble away about a handful of encroachment penalties, or defensive holding. The Cowboys' offensive line was also hit for a handful of false starts and holding calls. There was also the bizarre sequence that saw the Cowboys flagged for delay of game after a successful fake punt – the result of another mix up with the officiating crew.

"I think both teams were probably worried about the no-huddle tempo-type offenses because it was clearly a focus of the umpire," he said.

At the end of the day, Prescott pointed out that a lot of these issues were self-inflicted.

"We were getting behind the chains, making it tough," Prescott said. "This is playoff football, and when you're hurting yourself and getting behind the chains, it's tough. We've got to be better."

That feels like it will get lost in the shuffle of such a disappointing loss. Years from now, when memories aren't as fresh, Prescott's desperate scramble for one last snap will be the lasting impression from this matchup. The harsher reality is the miscues that put them in that situation in the first place.

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