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So Was It A First Down Or Not?

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So Was It A First Down Or Not?

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Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles is stopped on a 4 and 1 play in the fourth quarter against Keith Brooking of the Dallas Cowboys.

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It was fitting that last night’s Eagles-Cowboys showdown turned on a single, baffling play. Both teams were 5-2 going in. Both teams have QB’s that inspire hand-wringing among their respective fanbases. And, last night, both teams combined for a combined, oh, thirty zillion penalties. This was destined to be a relatively even-sided affair, and so it was.

Until 10:49 left in the fourth. That was when the Eagles ran Donovan McNabb on a QB sneak on 4th and inches at the Dallas 45 and were stopped for no gain, turning the ball over on downs to the Cowboys, who then drove for the winning score.

Now, as you know, Andy Reid challenged this call and failed. Trying to discern the proper spot for a ball on replay is next to impossible, because the camera is NEVER at a straight angle onto the ball. I’d happily give a non-vital organ for a camera that followed the ball on an even plane at all times. When I die, the first thing I’ll ask God is for a properly angled replay of the Music City Miracle. It tortures me to no end to not know the truth about that play, and I’m not even a Buffalo fan.

It’s even more difficult to figure it out when the play being reviewed is the tangled scrum that results from an attempted QB sneak. As Cris Collinsworth said, there wasn’t a soul in that stadium who didn’t know it was coming. Everyone was in the center of the line at the snap of the ball. Eagles. Cowboys. Shriners. Everyone.

All that said, let’s be real about this: that was a first down. It was. The spot was terrible. Even if you don’t count McNabb sliding down the back of another player and landing well ahead of the sticks, it was a first down. The initial push clearly put McNabb a foot or two past where the ball was snapped. And, while the location of McNabb’s left knee and elbow were on replay, McNabb would have needed an arm that was five feet long for it to be on the ground behind the marker. There’s little doubt that McNabb never hit the ground before rolling to the turf, which would have made the spot even more egregious.

Now, there’s no telling what Andy Reid would have done to screw up the game should the Eagles have won that challenge. I’m sure he would have tried punting on second down from the Cowboys’ 5, or something like that. There’s no guarantee the Eagles would have taken the lead after that play. But it was a terrible spot, and the Cowboys reaped the benefit, taking maximum advantage, which is what good teams do when a fortunate call goes their way.

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