The play: On fourth down with 4 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the game, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo floated a 31-yard pass down the left sideline. Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant leaped over Packers cornerback Sam Shields and grabbed the ball with both hands. Bryant took two steps as he stumbled to the ground. As he landed just before the Packers' goal line, the ball squirted loose. It made contact with the ground. Bryant then rolled over, grabbed the ball and stood up.
The initial ruling: Referee Gene Steratore's crew initially ruled a catch and placed the ball at the Packers' 1-yard line. Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play.
The rule: The oft-cited "process rule" of the NFL rulebook has surfaced many times, most famously to deny an apparent touchdown catch by the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson in 2010. Here is what Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 reads: "If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete."
The review: Watched in slow motion, Bryant's action fits the description of the rule. He lost the ball as he stumbled to the ground. The ball touched the ground before Bryant regained control. Steratore, who was also the referee in the 2010 game involving Johnson and the Lions, reversed the initial ruling.
The explanation: NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino tweeted shortly after the game: "Bryant going to the ground. By rule he must hold onto it throughout entire process of contacting the ground. He didn't so it is incomplete."
Quick thought: This play was a reminder that the eye test and the "process rule" are often in opposition. The NFL has tried before to rectify this discrepancy via offseason rule changes, and it's fair to assume there will be another effort this spring.