Playing the “what if” game in sports has a long tradition. This week, SB Nation is playing the game with all its NFL sites. The one parameter for the game is to choose a “what if” that is relatively recent. For the Cowboys, there is one big “what if” scenario that will bug Cowboys fans to their dying day.
What if Dez Bryant’s catch in Green Bay during the Divisional playoff game after the 2014 season had been correctly ruled a catch? The NFL finally got around to admitting that it was a catch and that it should have been called that way during the game. Lot of good that does us now.
But what about then? What if it had been ruled a catch, what would have happened?
Let’s travel back in time. The Cowboys had gone 12-4 and won the NFC East. DeMarco Murraywas the NFL rushing leader and Dez Bryant had a monster year with 88 catches, 1,320 yards and 16 TDs. That was the last time Dez was such a powerful force. He and Murray were first-team All-Pros.
The Cowboys had already won a Wild Card Round playoff game the previous week. That game had its own controversy when a pass interference penalty on Anthony Hitchens was reversed, leading to a “what if” scenario for the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys won the game 24-20 to move on to the Divisional Round against the Green Bay Packers.
So now to the play. The Cowboys were trailing 26-21 with a little under five minutes left in the fourth quarter. They faced a fourth-and-two just outside the Packers 32-yard line. The Cowboys gambled by going for it, and by bypassing a run for a deep pass. We won’t rehash the mechanics of why it was or why it wasn’t a catch, but if it had been ruled correctly the Cowboys would have had the ball at the Packers half-yard line.
Let the “what if” begin.
With the Cowboys offensive line and DeMarco Murray in the backfield, it feels pretty certain that the Cowboys would have punched the ball in and taken a 27-26 lead. At that point, do they kick the extra point or go for two? Given the score and the time on the clock, going for two is probably the right call. If the Cowboys get it, they go up 29-26.
Now the Packers, and Aaron Rodgers, have somewhere around four minutes left to tie the game or take the lead. Given how Rodgers tortured the Cowboys a couple of years later in a playoff game, and with the Cowboys’ mediocre defense (at best), there is no guarantee that Dallas holds. That scenario has been brought up many times, but what about a Tony Romo rebuttal, where he drives the Cowboys back down for another score after the Packers score? With a little bit of time left on the clock Romo works some magic and the Cowboys win on a last-second score. Any buyers for that?
Let’s go with the Cowboys winning, either by stopping Rodgers or by scoring again at the end to win. The next week they would face the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. A tough game for sure as the Seahawks went through to the Super Bowl. But, remember this, the Cowboys beat Seattle earlier that season, in Seattle, 30-23. The Cowboys racked up 162 rushing yards in that game. That was also the game of the miraculous 3rd-and-20 sideline catch by Terrance Williams late in the game.
So, the Cowboys get through the Seahawks to Super Bowl 49? Our “what if” scenario continues.
The Seahawks famously lost that Super Bowl to the New England Patriots because Seattle threw the ball from the one-yard line at the end of the game. Instead of handing it to Marshawn Lynch, they threw it – and got intercepted. You would hope that the Cowboys, in that same situation, would have handed it to DeMarco Murray.
Of course, the Cowboys may not have been able to hang with the Patriots at all, but if they did, and won that game, how would that have changed their history? Might Tony Romo have retired earlier once the injuries started to roll in? Would Jason Witten have hung around as long as he did if he had a Super Bowl victory in his pocket? Would the Cowboys have made more of an effort to keep DeMarco Murray in the fold and go for a repeat? The personnel questions that could have rippled out from the Cowboys winning it all that year are enormous.
In the end, we’ll never know. You could even make the “what if” question about something that happened earlier in that game against Green Bay. Maybe the question should be – what if Murray hadn’t fumbled earlier in that game, near the beginning of the third quarter, when he had a wide-open run for a possible touchdown to make it 21-10 Cowboys?
So, if Dez Bryant’s catch had been correctly ruled a catch, what do you think would have happened?