IRVING, Texas - Sometimes, a football game is a circus. And sometimes, the calliope crashes to the ground.
I mean, exactly what was DeSean Jackson thinking?
It was a fabulous game. It was a ridiculous game. For the final time at Texas Stadium, Eagles-Cowboys was big play piled upon big play, lightning bolts at 20 paces, seven lead changes, just outrageous. The Eagles will rue how it ended even as the Cowboys celebrated into the night (and morning). The numbers themselves, the numbers in the final score - Cowboys 41, Eagles 37 - will always tell a remarkable story. They will require no embellishment.
And then there is the case of Jackson, who seemingly cannot do anything that fails to cause jaws to drop.
The rookie receiver from Cal who lit up Lincoln Financial Field last week in his pro debut, and who now has become the first player in the NFL since the Eagles' Don Looney in 1940 to open his career with consecutive 100-yard receiving games, also made an embarrassing mistake, casually tossing away the ball at the end of what should have been a 61-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter.
The problem was that Jackson had not yet crossed the goal line, and a Cowboys replay challenge resulted in the play being ruled a fumble. At that point, only the vagaries of the NFL rulebook saved the rookie. The Eagles were given the ball at the Dallas 1-yard line and scored anyway on the next play. That left the situation to be classified as embarrassing rather than disastrous.
But what is it with Jackson? You hope he learns. You hope he realizes, after such a national-television faux pas, the downside of pride. You hope he knows now that hot dogs can result in worse things than indigestion. You hope, but you do not know.
"Things happen," Jackson said. "It was just one of those things. I was just overexcited, just trying to have some fun. I'm young, but I'm kind of mad at myself. I could have had a touchdown."
Only time will mature him. At the same time, say a prayer that maturity does not diminish him. Because Jackson is a star-in-training and no one can doubt. He finished last night with six catches for 110 yards. It would appear that the only thing that can stop him are an injury or, well, himself.
Because what happened last night was careless and dumb - not a physical mistake, not a mental mistake caused by the stress of the moment, just showboating and dumb. Afterward, Jackson admitted that he was thinking a little about his touchdown celebration. "I still haven't scored a touchdown, and I was excited," he said, again.
It is not the first time in his life that something like this has happened. In high school, at a postseason all-star game in San Antonio, Jackson was voted most valuable player after a seven-catch, 141-yard day. But he also had an outrageous blemish, all about showing off: He attempted a somersault into the end zone and instead landed on the 1-yard line, costing him a touchdown.
This was different but the same. In the NFL's instant-replay case book, they do not include a specific example that fits with this ridiculous play. But the question - whether Jackson crossed the goal line before fumbling - is clearly reviewable. And it was obvious, after seeing the replay, that Jackson had tossed away his touchdown.
But what to do about it? He threw the ball back into the field of play, but arms were being raised by the officials, signaling a touchdown and ending the play. The ball just laid there, even as Jackson's body language sort of/kind of indicated that he might have known that he screwed up.
Replays shown on the big screens at Texas Stadium immediately raised the question. The Eagles tried to hustle up to the line to kick the extra point, but Cowboys coach Wade Phillips managed to signal for a challenge of the call.
With that, referee Terry McAulay stuck his head under the hood of the way-back machine and was confronted with essentially the same facts that referee Ed Hochuli faced the day before at the Denver-San Diego game. In that one, Hochuli made the wrong call when he said Denver quarterback Jay Cutler threw an incomplete pass when everybody saw that he had fumbled. Again, though, faced with that fact, and with whistles that blew as a result, well, what to do?
The case book is clear, and the same principle applied with this play: "One thing to remember is that when the quarterback is hit while throwing and the referee rules the play an incomplete pass, the defense can challenge that the ruling should be a fumble, BUT THEY WILL NOT GET POSSESSION OF THE BALL. (Emphasis in case book.) If overturned to a fumble, the play is dead where the ball hit the ground."
Which is the principle McAulay applied here. It meant that, instead of a touchdown, the Eagles retained possession on the Cowboys' 1-yard line - where it landed after Jackson had so casually tossed it away. And, on the next play, Brian Westbrook scored a touchdown. When you think about it, Westbrook is now even - in a football-gods kind of way. Last year, in the game here, he gave up a sure touchdown and fell to waste more time and insure a victory. This year, Westbrook was made whole by Jackson's goof-up.
But, as Westbrook said, "His job is to score." So what of Jackson himself? My word, what next? *
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