We have at least another week, and probably much longer, to hear about the pass interference call that was reversed in the 24-20 victory of the Dallas Cowboys over the Detroit Lions. There was so very much more to a really exciting, edge of your seat game. But that is dominating the media coverage.
Both Jason Garrett of Dallas and Jim Caldwell of the Lions addressed the play afterwards. It is striking what each had to say.
"We're talking about the wrong stuff," Garrett said. "We're talking about officiating after a game. I would like to think that I would say that when the call goes against us, and certainly want to say it when the call goes for us. There's a lot of calls in a game that impact the game and we never really try to get caught up with those as coaches and players. You try to play and coach the game to the best of our ability. There's a lot of great things that happened in that ball game yesterday, and I think a lot of people are talking about the wrong things. You talk about what happened during the game and the positive things that happened for our football team, how good a football team they are and the battle that we went through and the challenge that we went through to have to win that game."
Caldwell said the situation was "hard to swallow" because of his anger about what happened for the team, fans and the Ford family.
He did, though, say he believes the NFL should look into taking those calls out of the element of human error. Caldwell said there should be "boundaries" in terms of reviews, but that in big games and playoffs that there shouldn't be a limit on reviewing plays to make sure calls are correct.
"I do think, in this day and age, modern times where we have technology that can take out the human factor in certain key situations, in big games, that we should use that technology to do so," Caldwell said. "Kind of set the record straight and take the human error out of it."
One coach says the one play was not the determining factor in the game, and that everyone should look at the bigger picture. The other sounds like he feels that it turned the tide and led to his own team's defeat.
The contrast could not be more stark. And it may tell us a great deal about why the first one is now planning on how to play in the next round, and the other is on to the offseason.
Certainly the fans of the Cowboys would be complaining mightily if the roles were reversed in such a visible gaffe by the referees, but you can be sure Garrett would not. He realizes that it is the sum of all plays that determines who goes home with the W. And you could see that he has instilled that fully in his players by how they kept on fighting to scratch out a really inspiring victory. He knew this was all or nothing, that it was time to leave it all on the field.
That is what the Cowboys did, especially when he went for it on fourth down not once, but twice, once on fourth and one at the goal line to get a touchdown, and then on fourth and six to keep the eventual game winning drive alive. Dallas faced a few bad calls of its own, such as the running into the kicker call that wasn't made, although there seemed to be very little difference between the collision with Chris Jones and the one that was flagged against Dekota Watson to keep what became a 99-yard touchdown drive going for the Lions.
Caldwell shows no sense that he had that awareness. Faced with his own fourth and one situation after the now infamous non-call against Anthony Hitchens, he chose to try and draw the Cowboys offside and took a delay of game penalty and punted when they didn't bite. That gave Dallas the ball for that eventual game winner.
It is impossible to say for certain, but it does lead one to wonder if that strange decision by the officiating crew got inside Caldwell's head a little. His decision making on the following play seemed tight and cautious. It was the definition of playing not to lose rather than going for the win. It was the opposite of what was going on across the field. It may have been what really cost Detroit the game.
Adversity comes to all football teams at times. When the Cowboys overcame one of the largest deficits in playoff history against a leading defense to win, they showed that they were not cowed. When adversity faced the Lions while they still had a three point lead, they blinked.
There was talent and effort involved, but to a great degree, this was about mental toughness and how each team approaches the game. One thing is certain. When push came to shove, Garrett outcoached Caldwell.