Mike McCarthy’s introductory press conference with the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday covered a lot of ground. So much ground that it waded into territory from a half-decade ago.
The new Cowboys head coach was asked about Dez Bryant’s infamous non-catch in the 2014 NFC Divisional Round playoff game between Dallas and the Green Bay Packers. At the time, McCarthy was coaching the Packers and had a front-row seat in Lambeau Field to one of the most controversial plays in NFL history.
A refresher: It was the fourth quarter; the Packers were leading Dallas, 26-21, with under five minutes remaining. The Cowboys’ had the ball, facing a fourth-and-2 from Green Bay’s 32-yard line.
Instead of trying for the first down, quarterback Tony Romo found Bryant in single coverage down the left sideline, and Bryant made a terrific leaping grab over cornerback Sam Shields, appearing to cross the goal line with the ball in hand.
“As I said after the game, that was one hell of an athletic play,” McCarthy said, per the team’s official website. “I was impressed. Because I mean, Dez and Sam Shields – you talk about two great athletes going up for the football.”
It was a catch. Then, after a McCarthy challenge, it was incomplete. The officials ruled that Bryant never fully possessed the ball, which came into contact with the ground, while in the process of the catch. The Packers took over on downs, and held on to win.
A franchise-altering reversal of fortunes, spawning countless “Dez caught it” memes and prompting the league to explore its rules and policies.
“It was a great catch, I can say now – but it wasn’t then, technically,” McCarthy said with a laugh.
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NFL Ruled in Dez’s Favor … Eventually
Bryant did secure the reception, the league determined three years later, in February 2018. Not that it mattered then, but the competition committee reached a “unanimous agreement” and overhauled the “going to the ground” portion of its ethos, with Bryant’s no-catch the primary catalyst.
For what it’s worth, former Packers and current Cowboys wide receiver Randall Cobb, who witnessed the play first-hand, said in October what McCarthy intimated Wednesday: A reception in 2015 is not the same as a reception today.
“I was waiting on that,” Cobb chuckled, per ESPN.com. “I’ve been getting that a lot since I’ve been here. We didn’t know what the rules were back then. It’s probably a catch nowadays.”
Dez Approves of McCarthy Hire
After bluntly stating he has “no sympathy” for former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who was fired Sunday, the three-time Pro Bowl pass-catcher gave McCarthy his stamp of approval.
To hear him tell it, Dez says Garrett — not owner Jerry Jones — was the biggest culprit for the team’s consistent inconsistency this past decade. Reading between the lines, he believes McCarthy will do a better job of meshing with the bombastic talent.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL