He who lives by the questionable official's ruling, in the end, alas, apparently dies by it.
While of course the Cowboys had plenty of other opportunities to put the game away, what will long be talked about in this 26-21 loss to the Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs, is the overturn of what appeared to be a spectacular catch by Dez Bryant late in the fourth quarter that would have given Dallas the ball at the Green Bay 1-yard line.
The week before in a wild-card matchup against Detroit, a pass interference penalty on Dallas initially called and then picked up by the officials benefited the Cowboys and provided much talk, teeth-grinding and general debate over the ensuing week.
This one, while perhaps the correct call as stated in the rulebook, will forever be remembered, and scorned, by Cowboys fans.
Again, though, the Cowboys had their opportunities earlier. Dallas had the lead and the statistical advantage at the half, owning a time of possession through two quarters of 17:34 to 12:26. But, you've got to play a full 60 minutes and in the end, it was the Packers who gained more total yards of offense, 425 to 315, had more first downs, 23 to 21 and nearly evened the time of possession, 29:21 to 30:39.
The Cowboys got down and dirty in the running game with DeMarco Murray pounding away for 123 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. But, he also had a crucial fumble, the team's only turnover of the day.
Through the air, Tony Romo was again efficient. He only passed for 191 yards, but completed 15-of-19 attempts 78.9 percent of his passes, while tossing two touchdowns without an interception. Tight end Jason Witten proved to again be his security blanket, hauling in six catches for a team-high 71 yards. Bryant and Cole Beasley both had three grabs for 38 yards, the former visibly and understandably upset at the critical catch that might have been.
For the Packers, quarterback Aaron Rodgers showed just why he's likely to be voted the league's MVP. Despite clearly being limited by an injured left calf, he appeared to get stronger as the day went along, completing his final 10 attempts of the game. He finished with 316 yards on 24-of-35 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Davante Adams and Randall Cobb each topped the century mark in receiving yards while running back Eddie Lacy rushed for 101 yards on 19 carries, the Cowboys defense struggling to contain the Packers offense for most of the day.
Going into the game, the Cowboys knew one of the keys to success would be limiting the Packers in the first quarter. And they didn't exactly shut them down, as Green Bay marched 60 yards down the field on their opening possession, reaching the end zone on a 4-yard pass to tight end Andrew Quarless.
But the Cowboys, as they have done all season, bounced right back, Murray carrying the load with eight rushes for a tough 15 yards in the 12-play drive. Dallas got a big break when Terrance Williams sold a pass interference call on Green Bay, which was immediately followed with a 1-yard pass to fullback Tyler Clutts, of all people, the Cowboys evening things up at 7-7 while also eating up 7:25 of clock.
Momentum clearly swung behind Dallas on Green Bay's next possession. The Packers had reached the Cowboys' 27-yard line, but Rodgers wasn't ready for the snap on third-and-7, picked up the ball and then was hit by Jeremy Mincey, who knocked the ball loose and promptly fell on it for the fumble recovery.
Given the gift, the Cowboys didn't waste the opportunity, as Romo eventually hit Williams on quick curl, the receiver then breaking a tackle, making a move and racing 38 yards for the score. The 14-7 Dallas advantage marked the first time Green Bay had fallen behind at home since Week 2 of the regular season.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys had the chance to really create some room for themselves on the scoreboard when after forcing Green Bay to punt, they went on another lengthy drive that saw them go from their own 19 to the Packers 27-yard line. But on third-and-1, the Cowboys elected not to hand the ball off to Murray, who had already converted three third-and-1 plays earlier in the game. Set up in the shotgun, Romo changed the play at the line of scrimmage, bobbled the snap, then threw up a jump ball to Williams in the end zone that was knocked away by the receiver.
Out came Dan Bailey for 45-yard field goal, one he pushed wide right, although a false start penalty on Dallas gave him another chance, albeit 5 yards farther back. The result was the same, though, as Bailey's 50-yard attempt was tipped at the line of scrimmage, careening well off to the right, no good.
Taking the ball with 29 seconds left, Rodgers then found Cobb 31 yards downfield, the receiver tiptoeing the sidelines to put the Packers in field goal range. Green Bay's Mason Crosby held up his end of the bargain, splitting the uprights as time expired, the Cowboys instead of increasing their lead before the half, now only up by four, 14-10.
The gap was then narrowed to just one midway through the third quarter. After the defense again forced a Green Bay punt to open the half, Murray took off around the right end from his own 41-yard line and had nothing but daylight in front of him. However, Packers defensive end Julius Peppers got a hand on the ball, knocking it loose from the Cowboys running back, the fumble recovered by the home team. That led to another field goal, this one from 30 yards, the score now a tense 14-13. The fumble was Murray's first since Week 8 against the Redskins.
Needing a big-time drive in a big-time way, the Cowboys got just that on their next possession. Traveling 80 yards in just six plays, Dallas had gains of 20, 13, 15 and 26 yards during the series before Murray plunged in from the 1-yard line to put the Cowboys up, 21-13.
In this slugfest between heavyweights, it would be Green Bay responding with another counterpunch. Dallas appeared to have the Packers stalled, as they faced third-and-15 at the Cowboys 46-yard line. But Rodgers found rookie wideout Davante Adams across the middle, who then juked safety J.J. Wilcox to break free and race for the end zone, the game back to one, 21-20, heading into the fourth quarter.
Counting that one, Rodgers then made it eight straight. Dallas was unable to do anything on its next possession, with Romo getting sacked twice before the Cowboys punted. The Green Bay quarterback then connected on seven straight passes, capping things off by threading a dart 13 yards between two Dallas defenders to tight end Richard Rodgers. The Packers missed the two-point conversion, but they still had the lead, 26-21.
And then maybe the biggest call of the game spelled the end of the Cowboys' season. Facing fourth-and-2 at the Green Bay 32, Dallas decided to go for it and Romo threw one up for Bryant to go and get. And he appeared to, the Pro Bowl wideout making what appeared to be a spectacular catch over cornerback Sam Shields that put the ball at the Packers' 1-yard line.
But Green Bay threw the challenge flag and after review, the officials deemed that Bryant was unable to control the ball all the way to the ground. The result was a turnover on downs, the Packers ball with just over four minutes remaining in the game.
The Cowboys defense needed a stop in the worst way, and they just weren't able to do it. Green Bay picked up three first downs, the last coming on a 13-yard completion on third-and-11 on a ball that was actually tipped at the line of scrimmage. With that, the Packers ticked off the remaining time, Dallas' season coming to an end.
Still, it was quite a ride in 2014. Surpassing the expectations of everyone, the Cowboys finished the regular season at 12-4, tied for the best record in the NFL, winning the NFC East and their first playoff game since 2009. They'll now head into offseason knowing that even bigger things may lie ahead next season.