It wasn’t the only play that lost the game for the Redskins but it sure was the biggest and most obvious. The Redskins had a 16-15 lead and they had the Cowboys right where they wanted them. Dallas had the ball on its own 30 yard line, facing third down and 21. Let’s dissect this pivotal play.
The Redskins punted to Dallas and the Cowboys took possession at their own 14 with 3:44 left to play. On first down, Tony Romo threw a quick out to Jason Witten, who eluded a tackle and stepped out of bounds after a gain of seven with 3:39 left.
On second and three, the Cowboys almost got a big play. Kevin Ogletree beat Kevin Barnes on a skinny post. Had Romo’s pass been on the money, Ogletree might have scored. As it was, the pass was a bit behind the receiver and it slowed Ogletree up just enough to allow Barnes to make the tackle after a gain of 20 to the Dallas 41.
As the clock ticked under 3:00, the first-down snap came while Romo was calling an audible. All Romo was able to do was get a hand on the ball and it bounced back and to his right. Ryan Kerrigan was rushing in and he had a bead on the ball, but it bounced right back into Romo’s arms and he went to the ground. Kerrigan got credit for a sack and a loss off 11, making it second and 21 at the 30.
The second down pass was incomplete, setting up the third and 21 with 2:20 left.
On first and second down, the Redskins had gone with all-out blitzes to try to pressure Romo. They did it again on third down, rushing eight and leaving Josh Wilson, Kevin Barnes, and DeAngelo Hall out in coverage. The pressure came quickly and Romo rolled out to his right.
Dez Bryant stayed at the line at the snap and did not go out into a pattern until Romo started to roll out. Hall was covering him and for some reason he ran towards the line, taking away the cushion that should have been given on a third and 21. The quarterback signaled to Bryant and heaved the ball across his body as London Fletcher closed in on him.
Hall got turned around and Bryant got open. Bryant caught the ball about three yards shy of the first down but he was far enough away from Hall to easilyrun for the first down. Since Hall had been turned around he was not in good position to make the tackle. As he reached to make the stop, his hand went onto Bryant’s facemask.
Hall finally got Bryant down at the Washington 40. A 15-yard facemask penalty was tacked on to the end of the play (more on that in a moment), give Dallas a first down at the Washington 25 with 2:08 left. Three plays later, Dan Bailey kicked a field goal to give the Cowboys a 18-16 lead.
The blitz call
“You ain’t supposed to have to [cover for that long], but [expletive] happens.”—DeAngelo Hall
“You could second-guess everything. We had a chance to get the sack, and [Romo] did a good job scrambling and making a play. … Hey, it didn’t work.”—Mike Shanahan
There is widespread debate this morning on whether or not Jim Haslett should have called for an all-out blitz on the third and 21 play. Romo is an elusive quarterback and is well known for being able to scramble and pull plays out of his, well, out of nowhere.
Was the blitz a smart gamble? Or might it have been better to rush five and form an umbrella in coverage? Maybe the Cowboys gain 10 and have to make a decision about going for it on fourth down.
However, all game long I was getting tweets from people who wanted the Redskins to blitz more. If they had stayed back and played coverage and Dallas had made the first down with two completions Haslett would have been getting killed for being too passive.
Either way to go, the all-out blitz or staying back in coverage, would have been a defensible choice for Haslett to make. When you make that choice and it doesn’t work you should expect scrutiny.
In Haslett’s defense, the players have to execute. DeAngelo Hall went to the Pro Bowl last year and is paid like a top cornerback. It was about 3.9 seconds from when Romo took the snap to when he released the ball. When a top cornerback knows it’s a passing situation and the quarterback has taken away half of the field by rolling out he can’t let the receiver get by him like that.
“That was a [bleeping] terrible call. I told the ref he’s going to [bleeping] lose his job. I told the ref, ‘That might have been the worst call of the game.’ He’s going to get some demerit points for that call because that wasn’t no face-mask.”—DeAngelo Hall.
It’s a pretty good bet that the Cowboys would have driven into field goal had the facemask on Hall not been called but let’s look at the penalty anyway.
The call was close, but legitimate. Here applicable passage from the 2011 NFL Official Rules, Rule 12, Section 2, Article 5:
No player shall twist, turn, or pull the facemask of an opponent in any direction.
Penalty: For twisting, turning, or pulling the mask: Loss of 15 yards. A personal foul. The player may be disqualified if the action is judged by the official(s) to be of a flagrant nature.
A.R. 12.12 Third-and-10 on A30. Runner A1 runs to the A33, where he is tackled by B1, who incidentally grasps A1’s facemask on the tackle, but it is not a twist, turn, or pull.
Ruling: A’s ball, fourth-and-seven, on A33. No Foul.
There is no question that Hall’s hand was on Bryant’s facemask as he started to make the tackle. But that is not illegal. But Bryan’t head does turn as Hall’s hand is in firm contact with the facemask. Although Hall never grasped the facemask, the action would appear to qualify as a “pull”.
The facemask could have been considered incidental, which as noted above is not a penalty. More flagrant facemask penalties go unflagged all the time. But that doesn’t mean that this call was not legitimate. Again, it was close but proper by the letter of the rules.