IRVING, Texas– The Cowboys are headed to the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They're preparing to play their first playoff game at Lambeau Field since the Ice Bowl in 1967. And the way they rallied to beat the Lions on Sunday could be a defining moment in the career of quarterback Tony Romo.
Yet, the buzz around the NFL and still the hallways of Valley Ranch is the changed call of a pass interference penalty that was waved off by the officials on Sunday. The play was initially called as a penalty on Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens as he covered Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The officials actually got far enough to make the announcement in the stadium and the ball was in the process of being spotted before another conference led to the refs picking up the flag.
Instead of it being first down for the Lions, it was fourth-and-1 and Detroit elected to punt. A short kick followed and the Cowboys took advantage, driving for the go-ahead touchdown in their eventual 24-20 win.
On Monday, NFL head of officials Dean Blandino told NBC Sports Radio that after reviewing the tape of the play, Hitchens should've been flagged for defensive holding long before a pass interference penalty as Blandino said there was a "clear jersey grab" before the ball was thrown.
But to head coach Jason Garrett, a next-day response from the NFL doesn't mean much. In fact, Garrett said that has happened to the Cowboys routinely throughout the season.
"That doesn't surprise me, that in this particular case that they might have seen it that way," Garrett said. "We go through a process every week where we have the opportunity to send 10 calls into the league. They do a good job of being really honest with what those calls are and saying, 'that should've been offensive holding' or 'that should've been defensive holding' or 'it was a false start there,' and they're very honest to say 'hey, we've addressed that with the officiating crew and all the officials and we're going to get that call right.' We go through that process every week.
"And more likely than not, 60-70-80 percent of the time it comes back the call that we had send into the league, they agreed with us and said it should've been something different."
What Garrett didn't really agree with is the fact the call, or non-call, is still being debated.
"We're talking about the wrong stuff. We're talking about officiating after a game," Garrett said Monday in his press conference at Valley Ranch. "I would like to think that I would say that when the call goes against us, and certainly want to say it when the call goes for us. There's a lot of calls in a game that impact the game and we never really try to get caught up with those as coaches and players. There's a lot of great things that happened in that ball game yesterday, and I think a lot of people are talking about the wrong things. You talk about what happened during the game and the positive things that happened for our football team, how good a football team they are and the battle that we went through and the challenge that we went through to have to win that game."
But while Garrett was choice with his words on the matter, he didn't shy away from his opinion that officials should let the refs with the best view – and usually the ones closest to the play – make the final call. In Sunday's game, the three officials closest to Hitchens and Pettigrew did not throw a flag, but the back judge some 40 yards from the play threw it.
"I think it's best when the official who is closest to the play has the final say. That's just been my anecdotal experience," Garrett said. "When the guy who is on the play sees it, he's the guy who should have the loudest voice. It's always frustrated me when an official from way far away after the play happens, you see this flag coming in from 50 yards away and he feels like he has a better view of it. They don't ask the first-base umpire to call balls and strikes. He calls the plays at first, right? He rarely steps in and says, 'I think that thing painted the black over here. He doesn't have a great view of it. The guy behind the plate does. That's always been my gripe about situations like this."
But Garrett won't be griping about it for too long. He's got another game to get ready for this Sunday in Green Bay, whether or not the rest of the NFL world is ready to move on just yet.