ATLANTA -- The much-anticipated spitting match between Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens and Atlanta Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall turned into, well, a spitting match at the Georgia Dome on Saturday night.
On the opening series of the Cowboys' 38-28 victory, while the two players jawed at each other as they left the field following a sack of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, the controversial wide receiver spit at Hall, he confirmed during a postgame interview on the NFL Network.
Attempts to secure a transcript of the interview were unsuccessful. Owens was not asked about the incident in his interview session with the media because reporters were unaware of it. But the talkative Hall, who seems to always measure his personal stock by his performances against Owens, acknowledged that he lost respect for the Dallas star because of the incident.
"That's like the No. 1 thing in the National Football League," Hall said. "You don't spit in another grown man's face. Hopefully, the NFL can see it and go back and watch the film just before the first punt of the game. We were kind of walking face to face, and he just hauled off and spit in my face. I lost all respect for the guy, man, after that."
In an interview with Fox Sports, Hall said he wants the NFL to suspend Owens.
"I think they should suspend him," Hall told Fox Sports. "It's ridiculous. At first I couldn't believe it happened and people who know me know how I'd want to haul off on him but I kept my composure about it and didn't retaliate. But the league should hit him by suspending him."
The league is almost certain to review the incident, particularly given Owens' admission, and if there is video documentation, the Dallas star figures to land a five-figure fine; for perspective, Redskins safety Sean Taylor was fined $17,000 for spitting in the face of the Bucs' Michael Pittman during Washington's wild-card playoff victory over Tampa Bay last January. Game officials did not see the Owens-Hall spitting incident because Owens was not penalized.
As expected, the tete-a-tete between Hall and Owens was one of the intriguing subplots. Hall shadowed Owens all over the field for much of the game, moving from side to side based on where the Dallas wideout was aligned for all but a handful of snaps. Ironically, one of the plays on which Hall wasn't assigned man-to-man coverage was the one on which the spitting incident occurred.
Still, the players were close enough at the conclusion of the play to get into each other's face.
Owens caught just five passes for 69 yards, but two of his receptions were for scores, and in both cases, he beat Hall, one of the game's top coverage corners.
The first touchdown came late in the opening quarter, on second-and-goal from the 7-yard line. Romo eluded the rush and bought some time by rolling slightly to his left, and Hall appeared to have excellent coverage in the end zone. But as Romo unloaded toward the deep left corner, Owens used his superior size to muscle Hall off the ball, make the catch and get both feet down as he fell out of bounds. The score gave the Cowboys a 7-0 lead.
On the second score, a 51-yarder that lifted Dallas into a 21-14 lead late in the second quarter, Owens beat Hall on a double move up the left sideline. Hall clearly felt Owens was going to break his pattern into an "out" route, and the wideout instead feinted to the sideline and then bolted upfield. As has been the case so many times this season, Hall had no help over the top as safety Chris Crocker arrived too late.
Slowed by a knee injury, Hall practiced just once during the week of preparation for the key NFC game but refused to make excuses for Owens' scores.
Said Falcons coach Jim Mora: "The second touchdown, I think DeAngelo would tell you that he guessed a little bit. The great corners in this league, sometimes they take those chances, you know? Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn't. Unfortunately, it's something to learn from."
The game was a microcosm of Hall's season. He has played steadily but not as spectacularly as he did a year ago, and it is obvious he presses too often to make the big play. The Atlanta secondary has given up too many long passes, as evidenced by the defense's No. 31 ranking versus the pass, and Hall has tried to cover everyone's position instead of simply concentrating on his own job. He has gone nine straight games without an interception after having four in the first four games of the season.
Owens, on the other hand, has prospered lately, especially since Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe as Dallas' starter. He has 77 receptions for 1,040 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 11 touchdowns mark the sixth time in 11 seasons that Owens has recorded double-digit touchdowns.
Perhaps most remarkable about the feat is that Owens has achieved it while playing much of the season with a painful finger injury.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones revealed after the game that Owens a few weeks ago declined elective surgery to the ring finger of his right hand. It was surgery, Jones emphasized to reporters, that team doctors strongly recommended to repair a damaged tendon that controls the top part of the finger, above the top joint.
The tendon has split and doctors advised Owens that if he didn't have the surgery then, it would severely limit the flexibility in the finger for the rest of his life.
"He didn't want to do it, because he didn't want to have to sit out," Jones said. "He knew and understood the consequences. It was his call, and he decided to keep playing."
Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.