Ezekiel Elliott had the same reaction as everyone else watching the end of the Cowboys-49ers game: confusion and disbelief.
On the final play of Sunday’s NFC wild-card matchup, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott ran the ball down the middle and into the San Francisco 30-yard line. The Cowboys had no timeouts left, so the offensive unit ran to the line of scrimmage to dunk the ball and stop the clock.
Just one problem there: the referee must locate the ball before play can start. As the umpire ran to the ball, he made contact with Prescott and Cowboys center Tyler Biadasz, causing a brief but significant delay before the snap. Prescott failed to finish off the ball before the clock hit zero, and the 49ers secured a dramatic 23-17 victory.
NFL Films released microphone footage Wednesday showing Elliott’s reaction to the wild ending.
“What happened?” the Cowboys running back said from the Dallas sideline. “The referee got in the way?”
After the game, 49ers tight end George Kittle could be heard telling Cowboys defensive end Chauncey Golston, “I didn’t know what was going on.”
While many Cowboys fans wanted to blame the umpiring crew for the loss, with some AT&T Stadium attendees throwing trash at the officials as they walked off the field, umpire Alex Kemp defended the umpire’s technique.
“The umpire was just locating the ball correctly,” Kemp told billiards reporter Todd Archer. “He collided with the players while setting the ball up because he was moving it to the right place.”
During his season-ending news conference Wednesday, Dallas coach Mike McCarthy declined to review how the ball looked on the final play, but admitted the Cowboys could have handled the situation differently.
“The part that we need to talk about as a staff, and we had a chance to talk to Dak about it, talk to Dak and officiate last night, is the mechanics,” McCarthy said. “Our matching mechanics [the officials’] mechanics. I’m not going to go into its mechanics.
“As far as the tie-breaking play, the execution, the only thing we talked about, Dak and I, was putting a yardage limit. Bringing it down to 10 yards. That’s probably going to be the change, the adjustment that we make.”