Before going any further here, let’s get one thing out of the way - the Dallas Cowboys are a bad football team. They really had no business being in a competitive game with the Philadelphia Eagles, other than the fact that the Eagles are a bad football team. The Cowboys had plenty of opportunities to win this game but they kept settling for three instead of getting seven after turnovers, and they called one extra trick play than they needed to.
So, in reality, you can’t blame the referees for their loss. Still, one play really sticks out in this game where the Cowboys got robbed twice on the same play, and it directly changed everything that was happening in that moment.
Let’s set the stage. With 5:36 left in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys only trailed by six points, 15-9. This game was very much still winnable for the Cowboys. In fact, Dallas was driving the field, starting from their own 25-yard line to reach the Eagles 21-yard line. They were facing a 3rd-and-6 when the play in question occurred.
Here is the play in all its infamy.
In #DALvsPHI, the ruling on the field was a fumble. Possession wasn’t established until Eagles safety Rodney McLeod gained possession and ran it back. There was no clear evidence that anyone possessed the ball prior to him, so the ruling on the field stands. pic.twitter.com/pn41u5X3zD— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) November 2, 2020
The Eagles send the house and the Cowboys can’t block the blitz. Ben DiNucci is hit and fumbles the ball, and the Eagles Vinny Curry recovers it. Those facts are not in dispute.
But, in reality, the play should have never have happened. The Eagles were clearly offsides as linebacker Duke Riley’s helmet is in the neutral zone when the ball is snapped. You could see it on the live broadcast, you can see it in the tweet above, and you can see it in the screen captures below. Here’s a motion one:
Seems like he's offsides to me... pic.twitter.com/cKwAoMenS4— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) November 2, 2020
In the below photo, Tyler Biadasz is just starting the snap and Riley’s head was clearly in the neutral zone.
He was offsides so the play should have never have happened. If the referees would have called this correctly, the Cowboys would have gotten five free yards and would have been facing a 3rd-and-1 at the 16-yard line. If the Cowboys go on to score a touchdown on this drive (yes, that was no guarantee given their offense on the night), then they take the lead in the fourth quarter with under five minutes left in the game. One defensive stop and they would probably win.
But let’s say the officials miss the offsides (they did) and let the play run. Even then, the Cowboys got robbed. Anybody watching the the replay could clearly see that Vinny Curry had possession of the ball and was laying on the ground when Connor Williams ripped the ball out of his hands. The play should have been ruled dead at that moment. The NFL Officiating twitter account continues to try to pass off the fiction that there wasn’t a clear recovery and that the Curry wasn’t down, but no one believes that.
If the Eagles are correctly given the ball here (even after ignoring the offsides), the Cowboy still have a chance. It would have been the Eagles ball at the 35-yard line and Dallas still had all three timeouts left. They are still in the game. The referees, instead, gift-wrapped a touchdown for Philadelphia.
In the end, we don’t know what would have happened had the officials handled this play correctly. And you can certainly say the Cowboys blew chance after chance and really didn’t deserve to win the game (four turnovers created and they still lose?). And you could also say even if they won they aren’t going anywhere this season anyway. All of this is plausible and defensible.
Still, it would have been nice to let them have a real shot at playing this game out without referee incompetence.