FRISCO, Texas – Years from now, when the details of this strange 2020 season have faded from memory, this will be the play that sticks out from the season opener.
Trailing the Rams, 20-17, with 31 seconds to play, Dak Prescott looked left and bombed away to Michael Gallup, who had a step on Jalen Ramsey in coverage. The resulting connection picked up 47 yards and put the Cowboys on L.A.'s 19-yard line with a chance to tie or win the game.
That's what it looked like, at least, for a fleeting second. The familiar sight of a bright yellow penalty flag changed that.
The flag, obviously, was for offensive pass interference, negating the gain and eventually the Cowboys' hopes of a win. Replay showed the third-year receiver jockeying with Ramsey for position, with Gallup eventually extending his arm before securing the catch over his shoulder.
From his vantage point, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy wasn't sure he saw the infraction.
"Just watching it live, it looked like two guys hand fighting," McCarthy said. "I thought it was well-executed. I was surprised there was a call there, either way."
That's a refrain that will likely be heard from across the Cowboys' side of the equation. For his part, Gallup didn't have much to say about the decision – though at the same time seemed to say quite a lot.
"Honestly when you're playing away, you've got to make sure you know you're playing against the refs and the other team," Gallup said. "It is what it is. They're going to call it like they want to call it."
It will undoubtedly be a talking point throughout the week, as the Cowboys seek to lick their wounds from an 0-1 start. The catch would have given the Cowboys 21 seconds and one timeout to tie or win the game. Instead, the drive sputtered and didn't move another yard.
Perhaps more than the play itself, those circumstances are what made the flag surprising for McCarthy.
"Obviously disappointed in the call, particularly at that point in the game," he said. "I thought they let both teams play tonight, and you just don't usually see that – particularly at a critical point in the game."
Asked about it after the game, NFL official Tony Corrente disagreed firmly, saying his crew saw clear reason to throw a flag.
"I can tell you it was clear and obvious on the field, of a hand into the opposing player. A full arm extension that created separation," Corrente said. "In all situations that would be called. We're not going to allow that at any time of the game."
From his vantage point, hidden behind five mammoth blockers and an oncoming pass rush, Prescott said he didn't see much. But it's doubtful he regrets the decision to let fly to Gallup, who has been one of the Cowboys' best deep ball receivers in recent years.
"It's one-on-one. Michael Gallup is a guy that I trust every time, especially in a deep ball situation," Prescott said. "I just put it out there and tried to let him go run under it."
To be fair to Prescott, that's exactly what happened – at least for a moment.