On January 11th, 2015, the two-seeded Green Bay Packers, fresh off of a first round bye, hosted the three-seeded Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs during the 2014-2015 NFL season. The Cowboys were coming off of a comeback win over the six-seeded Detroit Lions in the Wild Card round the week prior that featured a controversial defensive pass interference no-call on what could’ve been a game-sealing drive for the Detroit Lions.
The game was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team leading by more than a single score the whole game. After the 2014 NFL MVP, Aaron Rodgers, threw his third touchdown of the game to tight end Richard Rodgers to put the Packers up 26-21 over the Cowboys with just over nine minutes left in regulation, the Cowboys had essentially one last chance to drive down the field for a game-winning score.
The Cowboys, captained by quarterback Tony Romo and running back Demarco Murray went to work. Starting off with a 30 yard run by Murray, the Cowboys drove the length of the field into Green Bay territory. A Green Bay sack on second-and-eight was too much to overcome on third down for the Cowboys, and with just under five minutes remaining in regulation, the Cowboys elected to go for it on fourth-and-two from the Green Bay 32-yard line.
Romo dropped back and tossed a jump ball up to star wide receiver Dez Bryant. Bryant leapt over Packers corner Sam Shields, caught the ball in the air and extended for the goaline. Cowboys fans were elated, as the call on the field was Bryant made the catch and was down at the one-yard line, in perfect position to score the go-ahead touchdown. Their elation was short lived, however.
Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy threw the challenge flag on the field. As Bryant hit the ground while extending, the ball moved and popped into the air for a brief moment before he regained control of it. After review, it was determined that Dez Bryant did not maintain possession of the ball throughout the process of the catch, reversing the call and ruling it incomplete. The incompletion on fourth down meant the Cowboys turned the ball over to Green Bay and they would never see the ball again as Green Bay would run out the clock and advance to the NFC Championship while the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs.
In the years since, this call has been the center of controversy, as fans argued over whether the call was correct or not. The game quickly became known as the “Dez Caught It” or the “Dez Dropped It” game depending on which side of the argument you were on. The debate still rages on to this day on whether or not Dez caught it and whether the Cowboys were robbed of their first conference championship appearance since the 90s.
This call is similar to one made in a week one matchup between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears. Another close game, the Lions trailed the Bears 19-14 with 30 seconds left in the game. On a second-and-10 from the Bears’ 25-yard line, QB Matthew Stafford launched a deep pass to star receiver Calvin Johnson who easily leapt over the defender and caught the game-winning touchdown. However it was not ruled a touchdown on the field as the ball came out as Johnson went to the ground. Despite Johnson having full control of the ball in all aspects leading up to that moment, the call was ruled incomplete, and the Lions would eventually lose the game after turning the ball over on downs two plays later. This rule would be dubbed the Calvin Johnson rule by fans after the game.
The NFL rulebook Rule 8 Article 3 states “a forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) in the field of play, at the sideline, or in the end zone if a player, who is inbounds: (a) secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and (b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and (c) after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, performs any act common to the game (e.g., tuck the ball away, extend it forward, take an additional step, turn upfield, or avoid or ward off an opponent), or he maintains control of the ball long enough to do so.” Article 4 states “Any forward pass (legal or illegal) is incomplete and the ball is dead immediately if the pass strikes the ground or goes out of bounds.”
The argument lies in whether or not Dez satisfied parts A and B of the catch before he extended for the goaline, since a football move cannot be committed until the process of the catch is complete, and before the ball struck the ground. Since he took three steps with complete control of the ball and extended for the goal line, he satisfies all parts of the rules and the call should’ve stood as a catch.
However, what nobody talks about is what happened after that play. Let’s say hypothetically they did award Dallas a touchdown on that catch as it should’ve been. Rodgers and the Packers still had just under five minutes left. On the ensuing drive after the incompletion, Rodgers drove the Packers down the field to the Cowboys 28-yard line, converting multiple third downs, one of which was a third-and-11, before kneeling out the clock.
The Packers offense was on fire that game, and the Cowboys defense had no answers for them. Rodgers racked up 316 yards and three touchdowns in the air, 117 of those yards and one of those touchdowns went to a rookie Davante Adams, and Packers running back Eddie Lacy racked up 101 yards on 19 carries, over five yards per carry. It is highly unlikely the Cowboys defense would be able to stop the Packers from scoring on that next drive especially if Rodgers needed to score to win the game.
Dez may have actually caught it, and the Cowboys may have been robbed of an opportunity to score a go-ahead touchdown; however, in the end it may not have affected the outcome of the game due to the offensive dominance of the Packers in that game.