The Dallas Cowboys have not been above criticizing the officiating this season when they’ve felt things haven’t gone their way. That’s how they’ll end this campaign as well, though, in his frustration, quarterback Dak Prescott showed a side of him that we’re not used to seeing.
Fans were unhappy with the 23-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, and they took their displeasure out on the referees. As the officials ran into the tunnel, they were pelted with trash.
According to Prescott, the fans deserve credit for that display, but what kind of credit do the Cowboys deserve?
Dallas didn’t lose because of the referees. The sooner Prescott and the Cowboys figure that out, the better off they’ll be.
Dak Prescott showed off a different side of his character after frustrating loss to the 49ers
Nobody likes losing, and that’s especially true when expectations are high. That was the case for the Cowboys this season. Dallas came into the playoffs at 12-5 and winner of the NFC East. They boasted one of the most talented rosters top to bottom and had legitimate hopes of making a run to the Super Bowl.
The clear favorite against the visiting 49ers on Super Wild Card Weekend, the Cowboys crumbled under the weight of their expectations.
Taking questions after the game, Prescott was asked about fans throwing trash down into the tunnel. He didn’t see it happening but initially assumed the fans were voicing their displeasure at the Cowboys, which is a fascinating peek into his mindset surrounding the way they played.
“That’s sad. I mean, you’re talking about a team, you’re talking about men who come out here every day of their lives and give everything to this sport, give everything to this game of football. Nobody wants to succeed more than we want to succeed,” Prescott said, according to Pro Football Talk. “I understand fans and the word fan for fanatic. I get that. To know everything we put into this day in and day out, try our hardest. Nobody comes into the game wanting or expecting to lose. 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.”
A reporter clarified that according to what they had heard, the fans were actually throwing trash at the referees and not the Cowboys. Interestingly enough, Prescott completely changed his tune.
“Credit to them then. Yeah, credit to them. Credit. Credit to them,” he said.
“If they weren’t at us, and if the fans felt the same way as us, and that’s what they were doing it for, yeah,” Prescott said when asked to clarify if he really meant to give his fans credit for throwing the trash. “I’m guessing that’s why the refs took off and got out of there so fast. Yeah, I think everybody is upset with the way that this thing played out. As I said, I’m sure a fan would feel the same way that we do.”
The Dallas Cowboys earned their penalties on Super Wild Card Weekend
Blaming the referees is a rough look for the Cowboys after the loss, especially when considering the fact that time-after-time, Dallas was its own worst enemy.
It wasn’t the referees who allowed the 49ers to jump out to an early 13-0 lead. That was Dallas’ defense, a unit that entered the playoffs as a dominant and dynamic unit, but barely showed any teeth against the 49ers.
It also wasn’t the referees that blew multiple opportunities against San Francisco.
The Cowboys were the recipients of a roughing-the-kicker call that turned a punt into a first down in the third quarter. They couldn’t capitalize on that second chance and had to punt again a few plays later.
In an even more egregious example, the final drive will be the one that sticks out, but Dallas actually had the ball with a chance to win the game with much more time left on the clock the drive before. All the Cowboys could muster up was a turnover on downs, and they were lucky to get the ball back for one final shot.
Sure, the Cowboys were flagged a whole bunch. They were penalized 14 times for negative 89 yards. For comparison’s sake, the 49ers suffered nine penalties, so it’s not like the refs were only throwing flags against one team.
With that said, Dallas earned its penalties. There were multiple false starts and holding penalties on offense and an illegal shift and delay of game. Officials don’t just make those penalties up. They were obvious. Defensively, the Cowboys were flagged for costly illegal use of hands and defensive holding penalties. Notably, defensive end Randy Gregory was called for three penalties just on his own.
It was a sloppy game from the Cowboys, and that’s something that has plagued them all season. Just because that lack of discipline was exposed in the postseason, that doesn’t mean the calls against Dallas were illegitimate.
Even the last play of the game that saw the umpire run into Prescott while the Cowboys were trying to spike the ball was ultimately Dallas’ fault. Prescott should have known that he wasn’t able to hand the ball to his center and run the play. Proper protocol indicated that he had to give the ball to the umpire (who was trailing the play) in order for it to be appropriately spotted and for the next play to be run.
Prescott not handing the ball directly to the umpire caused the collision that cost the Cowboys precious seconds and ran out the clock before they could take one last shot at the end zone.
Officiating was hardly to blame for Dallas’ loss
Yellow hankies aside, there were plenty of other reasons Dallas lost the game.
Prescott was underwhelming, to say the least. He completed just 23-of-43 passes for 254 yards, one touchdown, and an interception. The interception was a poorly thrown ball deep in his own zone, and all Deebo Samuel needed was one was run to find the end zone on the very next play for San Francisco.
Ezekiel Eliott was also incredibly ineffective for the Cowboys. He rushed 12 times for just 31 yards, averaging a measly 2.6 yards per carry.
On the other side of the ball, Dallas had no answer for rookie running back Elijah Mitchell or Samuel. San Francisco’s typically strong rushing attack again lived up to its billing. Mitchell rushed 27 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. Samuel carried the ball 10 times for 72 yards and a rushing touchdown.
The Cowboys lost, plain and simple. They may have been the better team on paper, but they showed up to the biggest game of their season and underperformed.
To Prescott’s credit, he did also admit that.
“We definitely underachieved. And it sucks. Point blank,” he said according to ESPN.
That’s a tough look in the mirror Prescott, and the Cowboys will have to endure it for the rest of the offseason. It won’t be easy, but it will be much more productive for Dallas than blaming the refs.