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What happened with the Cowboys-Rams coin toss ‘defer’ controversy?

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After winning the coin toss, Dak Prescott said the Cowboys want to kick, then said they want to defer, and then the league had to step in and sort things out.

Los Angeles Rams v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The Cowboys are currently embroiled in a battle for the NFC East title and, accordingly, a spot in the playoffs. They’re in a must-win situation against the Rams on Sunday, but in a testament to their own 6-7 record, the beginning of Sunday’s game was a farce.

Following the opening coin toss, which Dallas won, Dak Prescott said that they wanted to kick, without first explicitly saying that the Cowboys defer. That means that the Rams got to receive the opening kickoff, and come halftime, will receive again.

If you didn’t know that was possible, you’re not alone, but it is the rule. When a team wins the opening coin toss, it makes a decision: choose what happens, or defer the decision to the start of the second half. In this case, when the Cowboys said they wanted to kick, they were making a choice, meaning Los Angeles would get to make a choice in the second half.

It’s worth noting that Prescott DID say the word “defer,” but only after he first said that the Cowboys wanted to play defense and that they wanted to kick it, pointing to the direction of the field they wanted to kick it. It’s unclear if referee Walt Anderson didn’t hear him say “defer” or if he was playing it strict and went by what Prescott said first.

The exchange went like this:

Prescott: “We’ll play defense.” [Pointing] “We’re going to kick it, kicking it that way.”

Anderson: “You want to kick?”

Prescott: “We defer to the second half, yes.”

Anderson: “OK, you’re going to kick.”

The official play-by-play shows the Cowboys deferring, and Dallas’ sideline has clearly been active in trying to figure out what’s going on, perhaps trying to get the decision changed before the second half.

Choosing to defer is essentially the same as saying you want to kick because the opposing team isn’t going to throw away a possession by electing to kick themselves, leaving the Cowboys to pick “receive” in the second half. Dallas instead burned its decision on choosing to kick, at least that’s how it appears.

In the end, league officials conferred and decided not to make the Cowboys kick to open both halves.

It was a decision that kept Dallas’ momentum flowing. After taking a 28-7 lead into the break, the Cowboys opened the second half with a 50-yard field goal that only further pushed the Rams into a hole.

Following the game, the league clarified its position and what went down behind-the-scenes to set the call right.

This isn’t the first time this has occurred, as it has happened several times in college football. UNC did it in 2013 and Texas did it the year after. UNC won their game but Texas wound up losing by three.

The Cowboys were the only team in that group to have their mistake overturned when common sense prevailed.