The final 14 seconds of the playoff game between the Cowboys and 49ers generated significant controversy as it appeared Dallas was denied an opportunity to spike the ball with time remaining on the clock.
The play in question came after Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott ran for a first down on a quarterback tie for second-and-1. Prescott slid down with about nine seconds left on the clock and the Cowboys, who had no timeouts, raced to the lane to spike the ball and preserve one second to run a final play.
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However, as they prepared to spike, the referee seemed to get in the way, hitting Prescott and Cowboys center Tyler Biadasz and causing a brief delay. That left the Cowboys running out of time just before Prescott dug the ball into the ground.
The ending sequence certainly seemed strange, but referee Alex Kemp explained after the game that the referee team’s execution was strict during that sequence.
“The referee saw the ball correctly”, Kemp told the pool reporter.
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But did the collision between the referee and the Cowboys players matter?
“No,” Kemp said. “He collided with the players while setting the ball up because he was moving it to the right place.”
Kemp’s explanation aligns with that provided by the official rule book of the NFL, as an umpire must locate the ball before it can be made ready for play.
A dead ball is ready for play while the 40-second play clock is running when an official places the ball where it will next be put into play, or when the official signals the 25-second play clock. to start.
Before the referee came in to spot the ball, only Biadasz had placed it. So the umpire was correct to intervene, and he did in fact move the ball back about a floor to the right spot, as Kemp pointed out.
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Kemp further explained that the referee was “absolutely” within reasonable distance of the play. The referee had to run forward to get the point of the ball, so while some questioned why he was so far back, Kemp said that was just a product of where the referee was supposed to line up.
“We’re following the game, keeping a proper distance so we can identify the fouls, if there are any,” Kemp said. “Once the play is over, the referee immediately goes to get the ball, and that’s what he did.”
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Coach Mike McCarthy wanted the umpires to review how much time was left on the clock after the last play, but the umpiring team deemed the call correct. As a result, the NFL replay center in New York was not consulted, according to Kemp, because there was no error in the play.
So the Cowboys ran out of time. And that will leave Dallas fans mulling over the Cowboys’ quarterback draft, as it ultimately was the last no-hit play of their 23-17 loss.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.