ARLINGTON, Texas -In a game that had already provided a 14-point comeback with less than five minutes to play and a fourth-and-10 touchdown in the final minute to force overtime, it was only fitting that the game would end on a dramatic, if not controversial, play.
With the Saints driving the ball on Dallas' 33-yard line, quarterback Drew Brees threw a short pass across the middle to receiver Marques Colston on second down. As Colston was bringing the ball in while running, cornerback Morris Claiborne knocked it out of his hands and the play was ruled a fumble. The ball bounced forward from the 24-yard line all the way to the 2-yard line with safety Eric Frampton and New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham chasing after it. In the end, it was Graham who was just barely able to fall on top of it. The Saints kicked a field goal on the very next snap to win the game.
The play is frustrating for Cowboy fans for a couple of reasons.
While Colston certainly had two feet down before losing the ball, one could argue that he was still bringing the ball into his body and it could have been ruled an incomplete pass.
Dallas was on the other side of the same type of play that was ruled differently the week before against the Steelers. In the first quarter of the game between Pittsburgh and Dallas, Emmanuel Sanders caught a pass and seemingly took three steps before losing the ball, which was recovered by linebacker Alex Albright. However, the play was reviewed and the officials determined that it was an incomplete pass.
It could be argued that the two very similar calls in consecutive Cowboys' games were ruled inconsistently.
Another example of bad luck comes from the rules on forward fumbles in overtime. Had this play occurred in the final two minutes of the game it would not have counted. In the final two minutes of the fourth quarter a player cannot fumble a ball forward unless the very same player recovers it and not a teammate. This rule does not remain in place when the game enters overtime, so it was legal for the Saints to recover the fumble despite the fact that it went forward 22 yards.
Coaches Reactions to Fumble:
Joe Vitt: "I couldn't tell. There was a little bit of discussion that we had the ball. Then there was a little bit of discussion about where it was going to be spotted, but we just waited for the call. You have to have a contingency plan so we were trying to talk with the press box about 'Ok, where is the ball spotted if we don't get it back?' But we got the call and Garrett (Hartley) took the field."
Jason Garrett: "Yeah, I thought it was the identical play (as the Sanders completion the week before against the Steelers). And that's something I was trying to tell the officials. You know, unfortunately it didn't go in our favor. … I saw the replay on the big screen. The exact explanation of the play from last week about getting feet down and having total control of the ball and all of that. So, they saw it differently then we did and it certainly was a big play of the game."
Players Reaction to Fumble:
Morris Claiborne: "I looked at the replay, and I was thinking fumble. But I was hoping please let the pass be incomplete. But they hustled to the ball and got on it. You are always taught when you go for the tackle to try to knock the ball out. Every time I go in for a tackle, I try to go for the ball. I got it out, but we didn't recover it. I wish it wouldn't have come out."
Marcus Spears: "I don't know. I think those calls are at the ref's discretion. I don't have too much to say about it. They looked at it again, so obviously they took the time to see if they got it right, and that's the way the ball fell. Unfortunately, we weren't able to recover it. That's football."
Eric Frampton: "I saw it. I was coming down hill at an angle, and the ball squirted out. I tried to go and get on it. I saw it. At first he didn't have it. It was actually right underneath his leg. I went to go get it, and he made a great heads up play by reaching around his leg and grabbing it."
Brandon Carr: "I didn't know what was going on. I just saw the ball bouncing. Frampton was trying his best to keep it away from Graham. Just a wacky play. I mean, last week I think the same play went the other way with Sanders and they called it an incomplete pass. It's the luck of the draw I guess."
Anthony Spencer: "It was the same type of play (as last week). I definitely thought it was an incomplete pass. At the same time, I'm biased so if we would have gotten the ball I would have been like 'Oh, that was a fumble.' It is what it is."
Jimmy Graham: "I saw Marques Colston catch the ball and I was just flat-footed ready to celebrate with him. Then I saw the ball pop out and a guy was about 5 yards ahead of me and I figured that he'd jump on it and the next thing I knew, I was outrunning him. That just what this team does. We have a lot of resolve and we've been through so much. … To win here in Dallas, that's just how this team is. We all give all we have and that's what is expected."
Marques Colston: "It was a great hustle play by Jimmy and he saved my butt. … I felt like it was a fumble. I felt like I took a couple of steps, just didn't secure it tight enough and he was able to hit the ball and get it out pretty easily. You never want to put the ball on the ground."
NFL Official Walt Coleman:
"He (M. Colston) had two feet down, had possession of the ball and turned up field and got hit as his third step was coming down. He had possession and time enough to do something with the ball – a football move."
Did he have to tuck the ball away?
"He doesn't have to tuck it. So long as he has possession of it and moving it from one hand to the other he doesn't have to tuck it away. He just has to have possession of the ball to be able to do something with it like a normal football act. But he doesn't have to tuck it against his body."
On the similarity to last week's play involving Sanders:
"If the second foot is not all the way down, then it is not a catch, but in this case his third foot was down."
On recovering a forward fumble:
"Well in the overtime, you play fourth quarter rules, so the fumble rule doesn't start until you get to the two-minute warning, as far as the forward fumble rule where you would bring it back to the spot of the fumble."
"It looked to me like he did catch it, yes. I don't have a gripe there."