The final play of the Cowboys vs. 49ers and its aftermath left many baffled.
The sequence began with 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter and Dallas trailing San Francisco 23-17. The Cowboys had the ball with no timeouts left when Dak Prescott ran down the middle on a quarterback toss. He gained 17 yards on the second run and 1 to get to the San Francisco 24-yard line with nine seconds left in the game.
There was only one problem. Prescott slid down the middle of the field and into bounds. Dallas couldn’t stop the clock, so the team had to climb to the line of scrimmage to finish off the ball.
It looked like the Cowboys were about to do it when the referee moved the ball, delaying the snap. Time ran out shortly before Prescott was able to spike the ball, sealing the 49ers victory.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy was not happy with that result. He even thought the umpire would turn back the time on the clock as he claimed the umpires said they were reviewing the final play to see if they should.
“I’ve never seen that happen the way it did, as far as the collision between the referee and a quarterback,” McCarthy said. during his postgame press conference. “We’re trying to get into the 30-yard line to set up the last play. It felt like the mechanics were intact from our side.”
McCarthy, and others, may have thought the umpire was wrong on the final play, but he was running to officially spot the ball. That’s part of your responsibilities between downs, so the official rule book of the NFL, and is necessary for the ball to be considered 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.
As the Cowboys scrambled to the line, team center Tyler Biadasz was the one to put the ball on the ground. As a result, the ball was correctly considered unready when Dallas first appeared ready to snap the ball, so the referee needed to place it in the correct spot, which was about a foot or so back from where it was. Biadasz had placed it.
As such, there is no question that time should have run out for the Cowboys. The biggest question of the final sequence is about the Cowboys’ decision to run the ball up the middle with so little time left in the game.
McCarthy defended the play, explaining that he anticipated the game would “get to key situations late” as it did. That’s why the team prepared to hold the quarterback draft.
“These last two plays, the church clock, all those sets, we put in a tremendous amount of time,” McCarthy said. “So we had a lot of confidence trying to set up that last play. But yeah, our execution wasn’t what we would have liked it to have been, clearly, but I think you have to give the other team some credit.”