With 14 seconds left in the Dallas Cowboys’ wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at AT&T Stadium, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott made a decision that cost his team a chance to win the game.
Despite his mistake, Prescott took an opportunity in his postgame interview not only to blame the referees but also to cheer on fans who threw plastic bottles at them.
Here was the situation: Dallas was down by six points with no timeouts and 14 seconds left on the clock. It was second down and 1 yard to go from the 49ers’ 40-yard line, but picking up a first down should not have been the priority.
Any NFL quarterback has ample arm strength to throw the ball 40 or 50 yards, and 14 seconds was plenty of time for the Cowboys to take two shots at the end zone. A touchdown and an extra point would have given them a dramatic victory.
It is certainly true that picking up 10 or 20 extra yards would have made a throw to the end zone a bit easier, but it was risky.
Without any timeouts, the Cowboys would need to get out of bounds to stop the clock, and San Francisco had defensive players up and down both sidelines.
The 49ers left the middle of the field wide open knowing that if the Cowboys ran a play that ended in bounds, time would almost certainly run out.
Prescott saw the opportunity to gain some valuable yardage and took it, running straight up the middle for about 17 yards. He was counting on being able to spike the ball and stop the clock with enough time for one throw to the end zone.
However, the umpire has to touch the football and spot it correctly before another play can occur. Instead of giving the ball to him, Prescott gave the ball to his center, wasting valuable seconds.
Time ran out before the Cowboys could get the ball snapped, and their season ended with a heartbreaking 23-17 defeat.
As the play was reviewed, color commentator Tony Romo, who enjoyed a long and successful career as Dallas’ quarterback in his own right, explained the refs were not to blame.
“It’s gonna be over, because the umpire has to touch the ball,” Romo said. “Of course, that’s ridiculous for a game to end like that, Jim. Wow, I am livid if I’m a Cowboy fan.”
The game-ending play for the Cowboys ⬇️
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 17, 2022
In another clip, Romo made it clear that the person responsible for the mishap was Prescott himself.
“Dak Prescott should have looked and found the ref,” he said. “You can’t give it to your center.”
Tony Romo explaining why it was Dak’s fault for not giving the ref the ball on final play pic.twitter.com/HTqhAjfGnw
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) January 17, 2022
Even without this mistake, there is no guarantee the Cowboys would have had enough time to spike the ball. By rule, the umpire lines up 5 yards behind the play, meaning he had to run more than 20 yards down the field to try and touch the ball.
Prescott arguably made two mistakes in this sequence — running up the middle with no timeouts remaining and giving the ball to the wrong person. Notice that neither of those was the fault of the referees.
In his postgame news conference, the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback seemed to know he had mistakes, which is why he was so defensive when a reporter asked him about fans throwing plastic bottles on the field.
“You’re talking about a team, you’re talking about men that come out each and every day of their lives and give everything to this sport, give everything to this game of football,” Prescott said.
Is Prescott to blame in this situation?
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“Nobody wants to succeed more than we want to succeed. I understand fans, and the word ‘fan,’ for fanatic. I get that. But to know everything that we put into this day in and day out … for people to react that way when you’re supposed to be a supporter and be with us through thick and thin, that’s tough.”
However, his tune changed immediately when a reporter explained the fans were throwing bottles because of their anger with the refs, not the players.
“Well s***, credit to them, then,” Prescott said.
WARNING: The following video contains vulgar language that some viewers may find offensive.
The Cowboys quarterback later doubled down on his support of the fans’ behavior.
“I mean yeah, if they weren’t at us and the fans felt the same way as us and that’s what they were doing it for, then yeah … I guess that’s why the refs got out of there so fast,” he said. “So I mean yeah, I think everybody’s upset with the way this thing played out.”
— Mark Lane (@therealmarklane) January 17, 2022
When Prescott thought the garbage was being thrown at him and his team, he said the behavior was unacceptable. Yet as soon as he learned the bottles were aimed at the refs, he suddenly wanted to give fans “credit” for throwing them.
Emotions are high in professional sports, especially in a winner-take-all playoff game like this one. Even so, there is no excuse for a player to encourage this sort of behavior.