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Controversial call goes against Dez Bryant, Cowboys this time and helps Packers reach NFC Championship Game

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) catches

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) catches a pass against Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Green Bay, Wis. The play was reversed. The Packers won 26-21. Credit: AP / Matt Ludtke

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Dez Bryant was reduced to a mumbling shell of a man, walking around the Cowboys' locker room muttering the same phrase over and over.

"You extend, you bring it in, you reach for the goal line," he said to no one -- and everyone -- during his wandering. "Boom, boom. There it is."

But it wasn't. At least not officially.

Bryant made the play of the game when he leaped over Packers cornerback Sam Shields and appeared to catch a 31-yard pass on fourth-and-2 that would have set up the Cowboys for a potential go-ahead touchdown with 4:06 left in the fourth quarter. The ball was even spotted inside the 1 and the Cowboys were coming to the line of scrimmage.

But Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the ruling and referee Gene Steratore overturned it after video review, saying Bryant did not maintain control of the football through the entirety of the play.

It was the last time the Cowboys would touch the ball, because the Packers ran out the clock for a 26-21 comeback win in Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game. The Packers will face the top-seeded Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

Meeting at historic Lambeau Field for the first time in the postseason since their epic 1967 NFL Championship Game, the Cowboys and Packers engaged in an exciting game. Like its predecessor, it came down to the fourth quarter with the ball spotted inside the 1 -- almost the same place from where Bart Starr scored on a quarterback sneak against the Cowboys 47 years ago. Unlike The Ice Bowl, though, the biggest play of this game was overturned by video review.

"I had possession of the ball coming down," Bryant said to reporters at his locker in a more coherent yet no less confounded state. "That's possession, right? One, two, reach. Bam, that's possession. That's possession."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones thought so, and was so confident that the officials were going to replay only to decide where to spot the ball that he was "doodling" when the noise of the record-setting crowd of 79,704 awoke him to the news.

"Any time we have interpretation in our rules, that happens," Jones said. "The judgment on the field, we have a principle that prevails, and it has to be overturned by pretty strong evidence. I didn't see it on that play."

Steratore did -- as did, apparently, the folks at NFL headquarters with whom he was in communication. Under Article 3 in the NFL Rulebook: "If a receiver loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete."

It's known as "The Calvin Johnson Rule" because he was the first high-profile player to have a touchdown overturned by it. Steratore also was the referee on that play in 2010.

"I'm just begging them: Please, please take that out," Bryant said. "Take that rule out."

Not surprisingly, Shields agreed with the reversal.

"He got up and made a good play and then, at the end, he came up bobbling," the Packers cornerback said. "These playoff games come down to inches . . . Good call on the refs."

Steratore said he saw "a couple of angles that show the ball actually hitting the ground and then the receiver losing possession of it as well."

He said the officials determined that Bryant "never had another act common to the game" after making the initial catch. Bryant and the Cowboys will tell you he had come down with the ball and was lunging for the end zone.

"It looked to me like he had three feet down," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "Dez reached out for the goal line, which he has done so many times. It's a signature play for him. He maintained possession of it throughout, in my opinion."

McCarthy, who lost a challenge earlier in the half, said it was his "immediate reaction" to throw his red flag.

"It was such an impactful play, you have to challenge that," he said. "It was a confident challenge. And a hopeful one, too."

Did the better team win? "No," Bryant said.

Some undoubtedly will see the call against the Cowboys as karmic payback for their controversial victory last week, in which a flag for a pass-interference penalty against Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens was picked up in the fourth quarter of a wild-card game against the Lions (Calvin Johnson's team, by the way). That call and reversal allowed the Cowboys to come back and advance to this game.

Jones also noted the decision by the NFL to reverse a one-game suspension against the Lions' Ndamukong Suh before the wild-card game.

"It probably shouldn't surprise us that we're seeing key elements of our games that are being reviewed and there is a huge effort to try to get it right," Jones said. "We've had a lot of re-looks at things around the league, and sometimes they go for you and sometimes they don't. It was just a bad time to have a play like that."

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