ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys couldn’t even make it to the kickoff against the Los Angeles Rams before controversy struck, . When the coin hit the turf, NFL official Walt Anderson turned to Dak Prescott, who said he wanted to “defer” to the second half.
Anderson apparently didn’t hear him clearly, and asked if Prescott and the Cowboys wanted to “kick,” to which the fourth-year quarterback answered “yes.” The problem there was clear, because to defer would allow the Cowboys to receive in the second half, but kick off to start the game. Opting to “kick” is a different designation in the NFL rulebook, and would mean the Cowboys are choosing to kick off both to start both halves.
Semantics in the context of normal conversation, sure, but not in professional football.
And so it went, as the first half came to close, it would require an intervention from the NFL to reverse Anderson’s coin flip ruling — otherwise giving the ball to the Rams to start the third quarter. With plenty of audio and video evidence to support their argument, head coach Jason Garrett and the Cowboys lobbied the officials in New York to do the right thing, and they got their wish.
NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron sent word that Dallas was to receive after halftime and Prescott’s request to “defer” would be honored. After the game, Riveron explained why he overturned the original call — Anderson having believed Prescott wanted to kick, as opposed to defer.
“Well, it’s specific to the rule,” Riveron said. “Under Rule 15 for replay, Section 3, Article 9, and I’m paraphrasing now, it says we can get involved, replay can, as far as game administration issues — downs, enforcements, things like that. So by rule, we can get involved. This is a game administration issue, not a judgement call, for example. And we have definitive audio that refers to deferring.”
And when did the league realize the error?
“If you look at what happened, you see that the Cowboys actually say three different things, and then we hear at the end where they say ‘defer,'” he noted. “So we go ahead and look at it. We pulled up the audio. We knew that I was going to have a conversation with Walt Anderson at halftime to make it right.”
Riveron went a bit deeper into detail as well, explaining the difference in definition between “kick” and “defer.”
“If you choose to kick off, the other team has the opportunity to receive, which they did,” he said. “Then, since your choice was to kick off, now the opportunity to choose belongs to the other team in the second half. Of course, [the Rams] were going to choose to receive, and the Cowboys would have had to kick off again.”
It ended well for the Cowboys, who scored a field goal on their first possession of the half to extend the lead to 31-7 — going on to land a signature 44-21 victory.
There is a curveball here, though, because none of this would’ve happened if DeMarcus Lawrence didn’t change the plan at the last minute — he readily admitted it after the game — which is why there were different things said by the Cowboys to Anderson before Prescott ultimately chose to defer. The initial plan was for the Cowboys offense to take the field first, but Lawrence was hungry to give the defense a chance to prove themselves early, and told Prescott at the last second to defer, which created a communication mixup.
“It was my fault, actually,” Lawrence admits. “I wanted the defense to go out first. I felt like we had a lot of energy and that we had something to prove — especially after that playoff loss [in the NFC Divisional Round]. It was time to get down and dirty. The guys came out ready to play.
“We were going to receive the ball, but I called to kick it — defer it. So, once you say kick, I think that means you kick off and then you have to kick off again the second half. I don’t know, but we were supposed to say ‘defer’. That was the confusion, but it’s all good.”
It is now, but that was the genesis of the confusion, and what would’ve been the latest round of officiating headlines, had it not been corrected by Riveron at halftime.
Instead, like the Rams, the whole thing got buried before it truly got off the ground.