After the game, Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys’ head coach, commented on the controversial last play of the game which saw them lose without running a play. The Cowboys tried to stop time by spiking the ball and putting an end to the clock.
The rules state that the official must set a football before snapping, and the spot referee tried to force the Dallas linemen to set it. The referee attempted to reset the ball but was unable to do so before the clock reached zero. The game was over with no time remaining and the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs.
“Mike McCarthy said the quarterback draw on final play with 14 seconds remaining is practiced each week and he was surprised they didn’t get another snap,” explained ESPN’s Ed Werder after the game. “He was told New York review was likely to put more time on the clock.”
McCarthy’s comments helped to explain the Cowboys’ frustration with the referee setting up the ball far more slowly than usual. With just over 15 seconds remaining in the game, the Cowboys called for Prescott to scramble for one more yardage and San Francisco to cover the sidelines.
The Cowboys had San Francisco at the edges so they felt they only had two options. They chose the play they had previously practiced and timed. The Cowboys could have spiked the ball, which would have given them one last play to throw the ball into the end zone approximately 20 yards away.
When asked if Prescott should have handed the ball to the official before the snap, McCarthy admitted “that’s part of it.”
The controversial end was made even more interesting by the fact that the referee who was involved in the last play also had a similar bizarre moment earlier in game. The Cowboys had a successful fake punt which earned them a first-down. The Cowboys left their punting unit on the field in a strange formation as they attempted to get San Francisco to burn a timeout on the play.
As the 49ers did not bite on the attempt, Dallas substituted their personnel with the offense and tried to snap the football To ensure that the defense had time to set, the same referee was present on the final play. As he ran out of Cowboys’ reach, he appeared to block the Cowboys’ path for longer than necessary.