There's reason to be optimistic following the Dallas Cowboys' loss to the Miami Dolphins on Christmas Eve. We're normally not in the business of moral victories, but it says a lot that the Cowboys had the lead until the last play of the game despite Dak Prescott having no time to throw and the running game finding zero success.
On top of that, Dallas had to overcome some atrocious refereeing.
Micah Parsons' holding drought extended to a whopping 38 quarters. To add insult to injury, he was flagged for a terrible roughing the passer that led to a Dolphins field goal. Spoiler: Miami won 22-20 so those were a huge three points.
Somehow, that wasn't the most egregious call of the game. On the Dolphins' final drive that culminated in Jason Sanders' game-winning field goal, a new angle shows Cowboys linebacker Damone Clark getting wrestled to the ground on Jeff Wilson's first down run that effectively ended the game.
Refs missed Cowboys' Damone Clark getting held on Dolphins game-clinching run
Holding penalties don't get more obvious than this. Clark had a clear path to tackle Wilson and the infraction allowed the RB to scamper for eight yards on 1st and 10. The Cowboys then burned their second timeout and had zero remaining after Wilson picked up a first down on 3rd and 2 to set up the game-winning kick.
If the refs flagged Miami for holding, they would've had a 1st and 20. Granted, they still probably kick a field goal to take the lead -- Sanders was already 4-for-4 with three makes from longer than 50 yards -- but Dallas would've got the ball back with more than a minute left (they called their third timeout with 1:42 left in the game), assuming they don't allow a first down.
It's anyone's guess what the Cowboys would've done with that opportunity, but Dak Prescott delivered an MVP-caliber drive on their previous possession. It's not crazy to think Prescott would've at least given Brandon Aubrey a shot to win the game.
The non-call is worse when you realize the Dolphins blocker in question had a death grip on Clark's facemask. At minimum, it was illegal hands to the face, which is a 15-yard penalty. So what should've been 1st and 20, really should've been 1st and 25. Instead, it was 2nd and 2. The rest is history.
It's always easy to blame the refs in hindsight. This game was really lost when Hunter Luepke fumbled at the goal line on the Cowboys first drive. That said, NFL officiating has gotten to a point where refs are missing obvious penalties in big moments that have huge influences on the final score.
Sunday's Cowboys game was just the latest example.