By Cedric Bailey
New Orleans: The Dallas Mavericks have a very difficult schedule this week to close out the month of January. On Friday evening the Mavs hosted the Chicago Bulls at the AAC and many fans were trying to figure out why Rajon Rondo was on the bench during the final 5 minutes of the game. The outcome was in favor of the Bulls. Chicago guard Derrick Rose rebounded his own miss with 4.7 seconds remaining, his tip-out to Pau Gasol preventing the Mavericks from getting a game-tying or game-winning shot attempt in a 102-98 loss Friday at American Airlines Center.
The Bulls’ front line of Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson helped Chicago outrebound Dallas 47-30. While the Mavericks got solid games from its starting big men — Tyson Chandler had his 19th double-double of the season and Dirk Nowitzki scored 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting — the rest of the Mavericks accounted for only 11 rebounds. The Mavericks did show resilience in the fourth quarter, punching back after the Bulls (29-16) took advantage of a lineup stretched by a lack of post depth. Dwight Powell, the big-man du jour after 10 rebounds in 20 minutes in the Mavericks’ previous game against Minnesota, played 21 minutes yet didn’t grab a single rebound.
Now let’s take a look at what happen on Sunday evening from New Orleans. Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who has emerged as a strong MVP candidate, jumped in front of a pass that appeared to be intended for forward Dirk Nowitzki at the top of key for a steal that helped the Pelicans escape with a 109-106 victory. Davis was part of another critical play with 12.3 seconds remaining when the officials ruled that Dallas center Tyson Chandler fouled Davis on the inbounds play. Davis made both free throws to give the Pelicans a 107-106 lead before his steal came at midcourt on the Mavericks’ final possession. The Pelicans’ victory ended a nine-game losing streak against the Mavericks.
Dallas will now return to action on this Tuesday vs. the Memphis Grizzlies and hit the road to Houston, Miami and Orlando to close out the month of January.
By Cedric Bailey
Green Bay- For the second week in a row the Dallas Cowboys were a part of a game changing call that determined the outcome of the game. Now for Cowboys fans it looked like a catch. That was true for innocent bystanders and neutral observers and it was painfully true for Dallas fans. And yet it appeared Dez Bryant had gotten one, two, maybe three legs down to put Dallas in position to knock off the Packers right here in Lambeau Field, the site of the Cowboys’ most painful playoff defeat. Then it was ripped away and, before you knew it, Green Bay was celebrating a 26-21 victory and a date with Seattle. A week ago Lions fans and Cowboys haters couldn’t believe their eyes and ears when a pass interference flag was picked up, helping to fuel Dallas’ 24-20 rally past Detroit.
This time it was a catch Bryant made inside the one-yard line, a deep throw on fourth-and-two from the Green Bay 32, another roll of the dice from the Cowboys’ ramblin’ gamblin’ head coach. Less than five minutes to play, Packers leading 26-21, it looked like the Cowboys’ playmaking receiver had put Dallas in position to regain the lead.
Many sports fans see it as a blown call that cost the Dallas Cowboys a trip to the NFC Championship Game and some will see it as good fortune falling into the lap of the Green Bay Packers. But referee Gene Steratore simply saw it as an incomplete pass. Steratore said that Bryant’s fourth-quarter catch was ruled incomplete through instant replay because Bryant did not complete the process of the catch. He said it was clear to him that the ball hit the ground before Bryant lost it and gained control. Had the ball not hit the ground it would have been a completed pass because it ended up in Bryant’s arms. “There were a couple of angles that showed the ball actually hitting the ground and the receiver losing possession of it as well,” Steratore said.
In this case, Bryant went over CB Sam Shields and hauled in Tony Romo’s pass, but as he fell forward with the ball in his left arm, the ball popped loose. Bryant juggled it, but regained control as he rolled into the end zone. The initial call was a first down at the 1-yard line. Packers coach Mike McCarthy had to challenge the play because it was not a touchdown and thus not automatically reviewed. Bryant vehemently disagreed with the call. “I’ve never seen that a day in my life,” Bryant said. “I’m just trying to wait and see. I want to know why it wasn’t a catch.”
In closing let’s talk about Cowboys QB Tony Romo and the biggest game of his life — a chance to send the Cowboys to their first NFC title game in 19 years — Romo delivered a throw that would have made Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach proud. This is what we all expected Sunday when the NFL’s two best quarterbacks of 2014 squared off in the playoffs. Romo won his first NFL passing title this season and Rodgers finished percentage points behind him.
Rodgers is the favorite to win the NFL MVP award and Romo figures to be in the mix after engineering this surprising 12-4 finish and NFC semifinal appearance by the Cowboys.
Neither player was at his best physically Sunday. Rodgers hobbled into the game with a torn calf muscle that limited his mobility. For most of the afternoon he was a statue in the pocket. Romo has lost a step since his back surgeries and banged up both his left hand and knee in the game.
But Romo was superb throughout. He was 15-of-18 passing before that final throw to Bryant. Jason Witten dropped Romo’s first pass of the day and the other two incompletions were throwaways under pressure, one at the feet of DeMarco Murray on a screen and the other an out-of-bounds heave to Terrance Williams on a go route.
Romo threw touchdown passes of 1 yard to Tyler Clutts and 38 yards to Williams. He also completed passes of 20 yards to Bryant and a pair of 18-yarders to Cole Beasley and Witten. He didn’t turn the ball over and stood tall in the face of a punishing pass rush that saw him get sacked by Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Mike Neal. That final throw to Bryant was Romo’s only incompletion in the second half in seven passes. He made every throw he needed to make in the final 30 minutes to win the highest-stakes game of his career.