NFL Refs Still Say They Got Dez Call Right

GRAPEVINE - Six months have passed since Dez Bryant's apparent 31-yard fourth-quarter catch in January's NFC divisional playoffs at Green Bay. But the views of the zebras - from Blandino to Hochuli to Coleman - are unchanged. As are the views of Cowboys fans. Stephen Jones, however. ...

NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino says Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant 's controversial non-catch in January's divisional playoffs against the Green Bay Packers a teachable moment for the league's on-field officials.

"It's a great teaching moment just when you look at that play and the mechanics of the covering official and what you have to do," said Blandino, speaking to the media at the NFL's annual officiating clinic about the fourth-and-2 fourth quarter play. "Because the teaching moment on that play on the field for the covering official is to watch the whole process, to follow the receiver to the ground and make sure that he maintains that control versus going to the spot and not watching the rest. And I think that's the teaching moment that we have with our game officials."

As Cowboys fans painfully recall, the ruling on the field was a completed catch. But Packers head coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play, sending referee Gene Steratore under the hood to take a look at the replay ... with Blandino in his ear via the NFL's instant-replay control room in New York. (The best thing written about "Dez Caught It'' comes from our own Mike Fisher, in the Lambeau Field locker room that evening with Bryant himself ...

“Catch,'' Dez says as we progress down the corridor, recalling his leap at the 5-yard line of a deep Tony Romo lob on fourth-and-2.

"Then one (step),’’ he says.

“Two,’’ he adds with another stride. Then another. “Three.’'

At various times since then, the league has spoken in favor of that ruling ... and the rule. "If you're falling to the ground to make the catch, then you have to maintain control when you land,'' Blandino said. "And if you reach or do anything with the football, that's not going to trump that requirement to maintain that control.''

"At the time, they said the ruling was correct," said Ed Hochuli, who is entering his 26th year as an official. "After the game, the league said the ruling was correct. The rule hasn't changed. It's still correct. And people may not like the rule, but that is the rule. And that's the way the rule was interpreted and handled correctly."

Walt Coleman, who is also entering his 26th year as a game official, says the league "got the play right." He also empathizes with referee Gene Steratore, who had to overturn the catch after the Packers challenge. Coleman was part of another controversial game in NFL playoff history: the 2001 AFC divisional between New England and Oakland.

"Not everybody in Oakland thinks it was a forward pass," Coleman said of Brady's fumble ruled an incomplete pass. "But it was. And not everybody thinks that that was an incomplete pass. But it was.

"That's the fun part about being involved and the fans and people are so excited, to be involved in something like the National Football League, so many people get excited about it." All the officiating types recognize that in to Cowboys fans, that missed chance to advance to the NFC title game isn't exactly remembered as "fun.''

"It's hard for the fans to understand,'' Hochuli said. "But ... fans are what make this thing go. And so they're never going to agree with you. I've had games where I don't think I made anybody happy."


Added Blandino: "I get some Cowboys fans, especially here in Dallas you do get some people that recognize you. And I think I wasn't very popular at the time. But I think people start to understand what the rule is, and they may not agree with it, but I think they understand why the rule was in place."

Blandino is correct there, as established by Cowboys COO Stephen Jones' comments this week at the grand opening of the Dallas Cowboys Club at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. "You know, as it turns out, according to the rule,'' Stephen said, "I think the call was correct."

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