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HAIL NARY: 10 Whitty Observations on the Wacky, Woeful Play Ending Cowboys Season

The Cowboys are to blame, but it wasn't all their fault

The Dallas Cowboys were lethargic, sleepwalking to a 13-0 deficit against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Dallas Cowboys were undisciplined, evidenced by a NFL playoff-tying 14 penalties.

The Dallas Cowboys completed only one pass to receiver CeeDee Lamb.

The Dallas Cowboys didn't record a single sack.

The Dallas Cowboys were bullied, outgained on the ground by a whopping 169-77 and ultimately outscored, 23-17.

The Dallas Cowboys - despite those physical mistakes and mental gaffes - deserved one last play to right all their wrongs.

After turning the game's final, fatal sequence into the most analyzed Dallas footage since the Zapruder Film, our 10 observations on the most controversial non-play in franchise history: the Hail Nary ...

10. THE PLAN - Needing a touchdown to pull off a miracle, the Cowboys faced 2nd and 1 at San Francisco's 41-yard line with :14 remaining. The plan was to gain as many yards as possible before launching a final pass into the end zone because, according to coach Mike McCarthy, you like your chances of sending five receivers on vertical routes more from the 25 than around the 50. Said McCarthy, "We had a lot of confidence trying to set up that last play. Our execution wasn’t what we would have liked it to have been. Clearly."

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9. THE CALL - During a 49ers timeout, the Cowboys huddled and decided to run quarterback Dak Prescott on a draw. "I wanted to get some yards and then clock it," Prescott explained. "It's a play we run through in practice over and over again."

8. THE SLIDE - With the 49ers playing a defense to prevent an easy sideline pass that would stop the clock - but, in turn, leaving the middle of the field open - Prescott ran untouched until beginning his slide in a blur at San Francisco's 27/26 with :11 remaining. As a final-play pass into the end zone is basically the same from the 30 as the 25, this was a mistake. "I could’ve went down five yards earlier," said Prescott. "I thought I had time left to clock it, and get into a last-play scenario."

7. THE DISTANCE - Not until Prescott voluntarily gave himself up at the 27 (his slide "ended" on the 25) did Umpire Ramon George - a graduate of North Carolina's Lenoir-Rhyne University, resident of Jacksonville, Fla. and private bank channel manager for JPMorgan Chase in his sixth season as a part-time NFL ref - begin his 26-yard run from the 50. Asked after the game if George was positioned a proper distance from the play, Referee Alex Kemp said "Yes, absolutely ... We're trailing the play, keeping proper distance so that we can identify fouls, if there are any. Once the play is over, the Umpire immediately goes over to spot the ball and that's what he did." Cowboys fans likely don't share Kemp's opinion of "immediately."

6. THE BALL - Critics of McCarthy's call and Prescott's actions claim the team erred in "situational football" and that the quarterback should have known to simply hand the ball to the Umpire after his slide. But as Prescott got to his feet and began organizing his offensive line with :06 left, George was still running but not in position to be handed the ball, much less spot it. Said Prescott, "We can say that, yeah, (the Umpire) needs to be closer to the ball ... It's tough to accept."

5. THE BUMP - With the clock ticking under :05 and no Umpire in sight Prescott hurriedly gives the ball to center Tyler Biadasz, who placed it on the turf just inside the 24-yard line. Then arrived George ... with a resounding thud. Frantically trying to officially "spot" the ball, George stumbled into the back of Prescott, shoving him into Biadasz and momentarily knocking all three off-balance. "I was getting behind Tyler and saw we had four seconds left and thought that was plenty of time," said Prescott. "I was trying to get everybody lined up and, honestly, just got hit from behind. You hand the ball to the center and then the Umpire ... all he has to do usually is come in and tap the ball and, um, I don't necessarily know exactly why the hit happened." Kemp's version of events was a tad different. "The Umpire was simply spotting the ball properly," the Referee said. "He collided with the players as he was setting the ball because he was moving it to the proper spot." Or was he?

4. THE SPOT - Here's where the fun really began. During his run from the 50 to the 24, not once did George's head turn to the left or right in an effort to locate a Line Judge who was properly marking where the ball should be spotted. (For what it's worth, when Prescott's knee slid down at the 24 the two Line Judges were positioned well behind him at the 31 and 29, creating an impossible angle/view to accurately spot the ball.) After steadying himself in the wake of the collision with Prescott - but, again, without ever looking up to calibrate the ball's position with a Line Judge - George reached down with his right hand and haphazardly moved the ball backward from inside the 24 and briefly tapped it on the 25 before again arbitrarily moving it forward to just outside the 24. Despite being a $12 billion industry complete with retractable-roof stadiums, hovering 4k cameras and cutting-edge technology, the NFL remains a stubborn, archaic league that still measures yardage via chains and spots footballs by 60-year-old, part-time workers "eyeballin' it". Sunday's black-and-white striped comedy of errors, however, was unprecedented. At least to our knowledge, an official trying to spot the ball for a potential game-winning play has never been credited with a game-saving tackle. And in a complete reversal of how it's designed to work, not only did George merely guesstimate where the ball should be placed, one Line Judge followed his partner's folly, moving his foot on the sideline from the 24, to the 25 and back to the 24 in a sort of deranged dance. All the while, the clock was tick-Tick-TICKING toward :00. By the time Biadasz set his feet and then re-set his feet - in accordance with George's random movements of the ball - Prescott's spike to stop the clock came after there was no more clock to stop. Maintained Kemp, "The Umpire spotted the ball properly."

3. THE TREND - The officials' handling of the final play raised eyebrows and blood pressure partly because a similarly suspect scenario unfolded earlier in the fourth quarter. That time - after a successful fake punt - the Cowboys lined up to run the next play when George intervened by standing over the ball and staring at Kemp. Despite both teams being ready for play George prevented a snap until it was too late, ultimately costing Dallas a five-yard, delay-of-game penalty that had both Prescott and Biadasz hopping mad and the Cowboys forced to settle for a field goal. In 2010 - in the name of safety for officials - the NFL mandated that Umpires be positioned behind the offensive backfield. In 2015, for the final two minutes of either half, the official was moved behind the defensive line in an attempt to help him more quickly spot the ball. On Prescott's run, George was obviously positioned waaaay behind the offense. But as Prescott attempted to spike the ball on the next play, George backpedaled behind the defensive line. Consecutive plays. Contradicting positions. The inconsistency was a symptom of the incompetence.

2. THE DECISION - After consulting briefly with his crew, Kemp waved and crossed his arms overhead as if to stop a running clock that already expired. He then delivered the kick to the crotch that Cowboys fans will feel perhaps forever: "That's the end of the game." Apparently Kemp and his officials didn't consult NFL headquarters in New York nor an in-stadium replay team before whistling the game dead. "We discussed it on the field," Kemp said. "That's the end of the game, once we confirmed it with the officials on the field."

1. THE AFTERMATH - Cowboys owner Jerry Jones - who will be 80 the next time his team has a chance to win a playoff game - took the high road on the extraordinary and excruciating ending. "We should not have been in a position for that last play to be something controversial," he said. "I'm not going to make it something bigger than it is." The Cowboys made their share of mistakes. But for Kemp to suggest the game's final seconds were officiated flawlessly is absolutely absurd. Granted, officiating on the Cowboys' final non-play didn't make them lose. But it did take away their chance to win - the Hail Nary.

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