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Spagnola: 28 Flags Over Texas Spoil Turkey Day


ARLINGTON, Texas – Let's get this straight right from the start.

That Cowboys trending upwards defense coughed up 509 yards here on Thanksgiving Day, a yard more than the 508 Cleveland put on them last year.

The Cowboys defense was hit for 36 points by a Raiders team that had not scored more than 16 in a game during their erstwhile three-game losing streak, which was also two more than Las Vegas' single-game high this year. Why, the Raiders had 17 with 8:46 left in the first half at AT&T Stadium.

My gosh, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr threw for 373 yards, his most in the last eight games. Receiver Hunter Renfrow caught eight passes for a career-high 134 yards and the recently arrived DeSean Jackson, a noted Cowboys pest, went for 102. And maybe receiver Zay Jones gave Dallas a take-that performance for not re-signing his dad, linebacker Robert Jones, a former first-round Cowboys draft pick, by pulling off maybe the most crucial pass interference call on the Cowboys of the day.

All enough for the Raiders, but a .500 team coming into Thursday's national-televised game at 5-5, to leave here with the Drumsticks and the 36-33 overtime victory over the now 7-4 Cowboys, who left losers in three of their last four and with no more on this Turkey Day than a, uh, tale of flags.

But if it were me, if I was Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, I would have left this game on a stretcher with 5:54 remaining in overtime. They would have needed to carry me off the field, probably fined and suspended, after blowing a gasket on the 12th of those 14 penalties on my team that virtually decided this game.

And I've been thrown out of worst places for sure.

"Twenty-eight penalties – I don't really know what the hell you want me to say," an exasperated McCarthy said afterward, referring to the total number of penalties that were called in this game. "Write whatever you want, I'm all for it."

Thanks, Mike, for the invite. Think I'll take you up on it.

Twenty-eight flags! And those were just the ones enforced. That is the most combined penalties called in a Cowboys game in their now 62nd-year history, two more than ever before and three of those four previous times were back in the 1980s. And to think there were three more flags thrown that were declined, one of those a second on the same play, so coming up short of thirty-something.

Oh, and the 276 combined penalty yards is third most in franchise history.

Sure makes Six Flags Over Texas down the road seem flag challenged.

And it wasn't just the number of penalties leaving this game's flow in need of a full bottle of Drano Max, evenly split at 14 a side – two short of the third most in franchise history – but it was the yardage.

Why, the Cowboys incurred 166 yards in penalties, most in franchise history, and you must go back to Nov. 22, 1970, when the previous record was set against Washington at 161, believe it or not in a Cowboys' 45-21 victory.

Good gosh that was the first year of the NFL-AFL merger, four days short of Turkey Day during my senior year in high school 51 years ago.

And the yardage would have been even more if not for the off-setting personal fouls called, causing Cowboys rookie cornerback Kelvin Joseph and Raiders safety Roderic Teamer to be thrown out of the game.

Four of the Cowboys' 14 penalties were flagged on veteran corner Anthony Brown, who went into the game with just one penalty in the first 10 games combined. Well, those four were pass interference calls for a whopping 91 yards that all came on third down. Come on, that has to be some kind of record, too.

And it was the last one, a 33-yarder that ultimately decided this game, Carr's prayer of a pass on third-and-18 from his 43 coming up short of Jones and hitting Brown in the back as the Raiders wideout leaped back over Brown's shoulder, making it look as if Brown ran into him. Raiders ball at the Cowboys' 24-yard line with 5:54 left in OT.

Exit Mickey.

Gifting an eventual 29-yard Daniel Carlson game-winning field goal.

"Without seeing the replay to get into specifics, the comment by the official was he wasn't playing the ball," McCarthy said.

Of course not. The ball wasn't catchable. The nerve of Brown for being in the way.

"You know, receivers are taught to jump back into the DB," said Brown, classy enough to stand up to the music after the game. "So, I really don't know. He grabbed the back of my helmet. I had my hands up."

There were at least two other calls tipping the balance of this game.

A 15-yarder for roughing the quarterback on Micah Parsons when a scrambling Carr fell to the ground and Parsons then, too, somewhat on the side of him, moving the Raiders to the Cowboys' 15. And then scoring a touchdown three players later.

"Honestly, I hit my own teammate, I didn't even touch him. I mean we're playing football at the end of the day," Parsons said. "We're playing football, the quarterback is going to get hit. You come outside the pocket, you're bound to get hit.

"I think we should be playing football, not tag."

Well, the Cowboys were it. Because driving toward the goal line early in the fourth quarter, down 27-19, Dallas facing third-and-3 from the Vegas 7-yard line, not only was Tyron Smith flagged for not lining up close enough to the line of scrimmage, but he was also penalized for a shaky holding call. Minus-10, wiping out Dak Prescott's touchdown pass to Dalton Schultz, eventually forcing a Greg Zuerlein 29-yard field goal.

See what I'm talking about?

But guess the Cowboys should have been prepared.

"We talked about the officials last night in a meeting," McCarthy said. "This is the history of how they officiate. … But just like everything in this game, there are trends and patterns, and we anticipated this game being officiated this way."

Teams do research on these crews, letting players know what a particular crew focuses on. So, this was referee Shawn Hochuli's crew. Probably told them on everything.

The research reveals that now in 11 games this year, according to, Hochuli's crew has called 163 penalties, most by any of the NFL crews. And they have penalized teams for 1,483 yards, again most of all the crews in the NFL.

And this is not just one of those years. During the 2020 season, Hochuli's crew finished with the third-most penalties called at 192 according to the site. With still six weeks to go in the regular season, they might be on a personal, uh, best. And their 1,694 yards worth of penalties in 2020 also was the third highest.

Yet despite all these flags, despite the Cowboys being without two of their top three receivers – Amari Cooper (Reserve/COVID-19) and CeeDee Lamb (concussion protocol) – and without their top two pass rushers – DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory still on IR – the Cowboys had the first chance to win this game when the Raiders called heads and it came up tails.

But they squandered their opportunity when the Raiders kicked off short to Tony Pollard, who already had burned them on a 100-yard touchdown return. This time Pollard only managed the 13, but of course, there was a penalty on the return, the Cowboys' Luke Gifford called for an illegal block above the waist, backing the ball up to the 7-yard line.

The Cowboys never moved past the 13, Dak's third-down pass while moving out of the pocket a tad too low and a little behind Noah Brown on third-and-4, forcing the punt. And you know the rest of this story with flags flying high.

So check this out: If you add the 509 yards the Raiders gained on their own, plus the 166 by penalty, that means the Raiders moved 675 yards in this game, 205 shy of a half-mile.

"Yeah, I mean obviously it was very unusual," Parsons said of all the penalties and the nine Vegas plays of 21-plus yards this defense gave up, five of those of at least 30 yards. "I just feel like we couldn't – nothing was, like, really on our side. Those big plays hurt, especially to go out like that.

"That just stings the pride, stings the soul."

Most of all, stings the record, too.

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