During New England's 13-9 win over Dallas on Sunday, the officiating crew in the game started a small controversy in the fourth quarter when they decided to flag the Cowboys for a key tripping penalty.
The penalty basically killed any chances the Cowboys had of winning the game, because it turned a third-and-1 play -- that the Cowboys had converted into a first down -- into a desperate third-and-11. The odd thing about the penalty is that it was the second time the Cowboys had been called for tripping in the game, which absolutely qualifies as odd, since there had only been one other tripping penalty called on every NFL team combined this season.
So why did officials all of the sudden start calling tripping penalties this week, and why did those calls only come in the Cowboys-Patriots game?
Former Jets coach Rex Ryan, who now works for ESPN, believes that it was Bill Belichick's fault. Ryan's theory is that Belichick probably sent some film to the league office before the game to make sure that they would be on the lookout for possible tripping violations against the Cowboys. It's not a crazy theory, especially when you consider that NFL teams almost never get called for tripping, especially twice in one game.
Belichick was actually asked about those accusations on Tuesday. During his press conference, the Patriots coach was specifically asked if tripping was something he had seen on film from the Cowboys. Belichick was also asked if he had talked to the the NFL before the game with a request that they look more closely at potential tripping violations agains the Cowboys.
"No. I mean, the Cowboys are one of the least penalized teams in the league," Belichick said. "They do a great job. I want to say they had the fewest pre-snap penalties -- you know, illegal formation and false start and stuff like that. They had one in our game offensively, but they rarely have that."
Belichick then went on compliment the Cowboys offense over the fact that it rarely ever gets penalized.
"They don't have a lot of offensive holding or pass interference or penalties like that," Belichick said. "They're one of the least penalized teams in the league. I think that their coaching staff, Coach [Jason] Garrett and their coaches, they do a great job of that. I'd say just in general they've had some personal foul penalties, but as far as the fundamentals of blocking, tackling, alignment – things like that – offsides, false starts, they're one of the least in the league."
After Belichick shot down the first question, he was given a follow-up about whether or not he asked the officiating crew during the game to watch out for tripping, and this time, he was slightly more vague with his answer.
"Yeah, I'm saying it would be hard to find examples of it because they're just a team that was not penalized very much. We haven't been penalized a lot either," Belichick said. "I mean, when you looked at the matchups in that game from a penalty standpoint, statistically it didn't look like there was a big edge either way. And sometimes, it evens out. One team has more in one area and the other team might have more in another area or something like that. So, I would say that really wasn't the case."
Once again, Belichick finished his answer off by complimenting the Cowboys, which is definitely something that someone with a guilty conscience would do ... but for real it still seems unclear whether or not Ryan's theory was correct.
"I was really impressed in watching Dallas, and then going back and looking at the numbers, they only had like three or four of those pre-snap penalties offensively the entire season, which is -- I mean, hell, sometimes you see that in one game," Belichick said. "But, those guys rarely had that, and they didn't have very many offensive interference, and holding and stuff like that. I mean, they just don't do much of it."
The worst part of all this for the Cowboys is that the NFL would later admit that. Of course, the league's apology means absolutely nothing, and that's because it doesn't change the outcome of the game.