All of Cowboys Nation was thinking it, watching the team pull off an overtime 35-29 win over New England on Sunday. Some of the players were thinking it, too.
But only Ezekiel Elliott and Randy Gregory said it out loud.
After a flag-filled game that saw Dallas draw 12 penalties and give up 115 yards of field position, and after one particularly questionable call that certainly seemed to take a rushing touchdown away from Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, his own running back came right out and admitted that the team was facing two opponents in Week 6.
One had dark blue uniforms; the other wore black and white stripes.
“There’s no excuse for that,” Elliott said after the win. “That’s ridiculous, the way they called that game tonight. But at least we were able to overcome the Patriots… and the zebras.”
It’s a longstanding tradition that neither players nor coaches criticize NFL officials in an interview or press conference setting. Elliott may well be fined by the league for that jab.
But he wasn’t even the only Cowboys player who went on the record as saying referee Brad Allen’s crew had an off night in Foxborough.
“I think it was a poorly-called game by the refs, if I want to be honest,” defensive end Randy Gregory said. During his three-tackle performance, the edge rusher notched two sacks and forced a fumble. Gregory caused at least one flag to be thrown on a Patriots lineman, but he felt like officials missed several other calls over the course of the game.
“You’ve got to fight through it,” the Nebraska product said. “We can only worry about ourselves, and that’s what we did. Luckily, we came out the winner.”
There were missed calls, to be sure, just as there are in every NFL game. But New England was charged with just five penalties on the day. And admittedly, not every decision went New England’s way. Officials missed a face mask grab, for instance, by Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown; Patriots fans are just as upset about that non-call as the Cowboys faithful are about the calls that cost Dallas.
None was bigger, though, than the third down play when Prescott’s apparent goal-line push didn’t even get reviewed. The ball was knocked out of his hands on the very next play as he tried to extend over the plane of the end zone. But the fourth-down dive shouldn’t have been necessary, Prescott says, because he was sure he got in on the prior snap.
“I thought I did,” Prescott told reporters. “I’ve got to squeeze the ball tighter on the fourth. I thought I initially had crossed, and maybe that’s why I think I was about to pull it back. Yeah, the guy got it out. Yeah, I thought I did.”
Two Cowboys linemen were even more purposely vague when answering questions about officials.
“When the calls aren’t in your hands, you’ve got to be able to move forward,” Connor Williams told the media in the Gillette Stadium tunnel.
“Just ignore it, keep pushing forward,” Tyron Smith agreed. “That’s all you can do.”
Or you can speak your mind and risk a slap on the wrist and a monetary fine from the league for calling out a subpar performance from the third team on the field.
“Their front was tough, definitely tough, especially in that situation,” Elliott said of the Patriots defense.
But he also believes the officials were the ones that actually prevented a Cowboys touchdown.
“We have to figure out a way to get in there,” Elliott went on. “I thought we got in there. The refs thought different, but that was kind of the story tonight.”
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