The Philadelphia Eagles were understandably salty after their 29-23 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon, given that the defeat all but ended their hopes of defending their Super Bowl title. ESPN puts Philadelphia’s chances of winning the NFC East at 0.4 percent and its chances of making the playoffs at just 5.1 percent. At 6-7, the Eagles also risk becoming the first team since the 2003 Buccaneers to follow up a Super Bowl title with a losing record the next season.
But it wasn’t so much that the Eagles had lost but rather how they lost. A number of calls went against them including one on the opening kickoff, when Philadelphia linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill appeared to recover a fumble by Cowboys kick returner Jourdan Lewis. The officials’ initial ruling was that Lewis was down by contact, and Eagles Coach Doug Pederson threw his challenge flag. But while replay showed that Lewis did indeed fumble, the review officials ruled that Grugier-Hill’s recovery “wasn’t clear” even though he emerged from the pile with the ball. Even though Dallas would gain just four yards on the ensuing drive and punted, the Eagles felt they had been robbed of a chance to gain an early edge.
“That was a pretty terrible call,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said in the locker room after the game, per ESPN. “They reviewed it and the explanation I got was that it wasn’t a clear recovery, although Kamu had the ball in his hand and there was only Eagles defenders on the ball in replay. So whoever’s watching that in New York should stay off the bottle.”
Images from the play seem to suggest that Jenkins’s anger was at least a little justified.
“They just said that the video didn’t show me getting up actually with the ball, but it was clear I had the ball, so I don’t understand,” Grugier-Hill said after the game.
“It was all green jerseys. It was all green jerseys.”
Afterward, referee Clete Blakeman was asked about the play by the Athletic’s Calvin Watkins, who was the game’s pool reporter.
“Opening kickoff, the ruling on the field was that he was down by contact before the ball came loose and so in replay we’ve got a couple of different components because we have a pileup in the end,” he said. “So, we’ve got to have clear evidence that there was a fumble, which we did. We confirmed that there was a fumble in the replay review. The second component of it is was there a clear recovery. And that’s just what we couldn’t confirm with the angles we had on video to make it a clear recovery by Philadelphia, so we had to stay with the ruling on the field.”
Blakeman then was asked by Watkins about replay images that showed the Eagles with the ball coming out of the pile.
“Yes, that was discussed and so situationally we have a pileup, I mean it’s really hard unless we have somebody with clear possession and control of it before the pileup begins and then we can give it to them,” he said. “We just didn’t have that on this one.”
Fast-forward to what was a wild fourth quarter. The Cowboys had just taken a 23-16 lead with 3:01 left on Amari Cooper’s 75-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott, but the Eagles appeared to answer just two scrimmage plays later when tight end Dallas Goedert rambled 75 yards into the end zone after catching a pass from Carson Wentz. However, the play was nullified when the officials ruled that Goedert had pushed off in to gain separation from safety Jeff Heath.
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s former vice president of officiating who now works as a rules analyst for Fox Sports, said the call should not have been made.
“In looking at the play, Cowboys defensive back Jeff Heath tries to jam Goedert,” Blandino said. “Goedert uses his hands to swim through. There’s no push to create separation. This is not a foul in a big call in the game.”
The Eagles were able to score later in the drive to force overtime.
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