The beauty of football is its simplicity. You throw, you catch. You run, you hit. Tony Romo threw and Dez Bryant caught. Simple? Nope. For the second week in a row, an NFL playoff game came to a complicated conclusion, thanks to technicalities and rule books and loopholes.
This is not a game for geniuses, no matter what you think of Bill Belichick. But somewhere along the line, someone did too much thinking, and it ruined a great game on Sunday. Green Bay beat Dallas 26-21 to advance to the NFC championship game in Seattle next week. And I think if the refs hadn’t screwed things up, the game probably would have come out the same way.
Just in case you weren’t aware, here’s what happened: With less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys facing a 4th-and-2, Romo uncorked a bomb to Bryant, who leaped for an amazing catch, got control of the ball after defender Sam Shields knocked it loose, pinned it to his shoulder, took two steps, then tried to stretch for a touchdown as he fell to the ground. But the ball came loose when he landed. The officials ruled it a catch, Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged and the call was overturned. Seems Bryant had never completed the catch because, as ref Gene Steratore explained, he “never had another act common to the game.”
Whatever the hell that means.
So Romo was robbed of a defining pass and Bryant was robbed of a defining catch. And we were robbed of a moment in history, because the Cowboys likely would have scored on the next play or two, and then Rodgers would have had about three minutes, on a blown-out left calf, to drive for a game-winning field goal.
Which he would have done. Of course, I’m only guessing. That’s how we were robbed. If not for over-thinking, we could be talking for years about the end of this game. Now, people will talk about that one play, and overlook the fact that Rodgers had an incredibly, unbelievably, historically great game.
“I feel very honored to play with him,” Packers center Corey Linsley told me in the locker room when it was all over.
He is the best quarterback in football, and one of the best ever. But with this win – and his gutty Week 17 performance to take the NFC North – Rodgers has added grit to his greatness. He battled a balky left calf all week, spending hours with a physical therapist and even receiving reams of unsolicited advice from strangers (“I’d like to say thanks to all the fans and medical people out there sending ideas over the hotline,” he joked to reporters. “There were some really interesting ones.”) Then, early in the first quarter, with the Packers driving, Rodgers saw an opening and decided to run. It was going to be an easy touchdown until the pain in his calf stopped him cold. He calmly surveyed the field, saw receiver Andrew Quarless and drilled the ball into his arms for a touchdown.
“The pain in my calf,” Rodgers said, “helped make that decision very easy.”
The Packers kept getting into trouble, and Rodgers would make some iffy plays and bad passes. But every time the team absolutely had to have him, Rodgers made the play. Every. Damn. Time.
The biggest moments are just so revealing. For years, people talked about Willis Reed hobbling onto the court for the New York Knicks and saving them. But Reed was mostly a motivational force that day. Rodgers actually went out and won the game.
Meanwhile, in Lambeau’s other locker room, Bryant was still stewing about the overturned call. It should come as no surprise to learn he felt very strongly that the refs got it wrong.
“It was a catch, it was a catch, it was a catch, it was a catch,” he said. “I’ve never seen that a day in my life. I’m just trying to wait and see. I want to know why it wasn’t a catch.”
The officials ruled that Bryant hadn’t maintained possession of the ball throughout the entire process of the catch. And they also seemed to be saying that he didn’t make a football move while falling down, so the fall was part of the catch. Then, he dropped it. And that was part of the catch, too. I think.
It is referred to as the Calvin Johnson rule, as the Detroit Lions receiver had a game-winning touchdown taken away on similar play a few years ago.
“Nah, it wasn’t like that,” Bryant said. “I was reaching for the touchdown.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also said it was a catch. But when I asked if he felt the NFL has an officiating problem, he wouldn’t take the bait.
“I don’t know. I think that’s just what we’ve got. We’ve got a lot of close calls, a lot of judgment calls. We’ve got a lot of ways to review those,” he said. “I have voted for instant replay. I voted for getting it out of there, having it in, getting it out, getting it out, getting it in. The reviews aren’t accurate.”
That’s his opinion, of course. So rather than further complicate what should be a thoroughly uncomplicated game, let’s close with this: On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 26-21. Aaron Rodgers threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns on one leg, and was simply amazing.