Seldom-called penalty is very costly for Cowboys in first-quarter drive

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The Dallas Cowboys’ offense was doing just fine on their second possession of Sunday’s divisional round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, then came a penalty flag for something that happened well before the snap.

And it left everyone wondering why the heck Cowboys receiver Brice Butler was given the 15-yard infraction.

Dak Prescott hit a 22-yard pass to Terrance Williams for a first down, which would have put the Cowboys into field-goal range, when officials announced the penalty: unsportsmanlike conduct on Butler for entering the huddle as a substitute, then leaving the field without participating in the play. You’ll see penalties for 12 men in the huddle, but you’ll watch a lot of football without seeing that specific call.

Cowboys receiver Brice Butler was called for a rare and costly penalty on Sunday. (AP)
Cowboys receiver Brice Butler was called for a rare and costly penalty on Sunday. (AP)

There was some question if Butler (No. 19) was ever in the huddle. He seemed to be on the outside of it when he looked back at the Cowboys’ sideline, which was having miscommunication issues over the personnel grouping for that play.

(Fox screen shot)
(Fox screen shot)

Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice president of officiating who works on the Fox broadcasts, clarified the ruling a bit (though it was still confusing because unsportsmanlike conduct, and not illegal substitution, was the call).

The penalty was for 15 yards, which seems excessive for the crime, and that meant the Cowboys lost 37 yards because it also wiped out Williams’ catch. After two more incompletions, the Cowboys had to punt.

It was a rare penalty, and a fairly inexcusable mistake for the Cowboys to make, even if it seemed like the officials had a quick trigger on the flag. It’s the kind of avoidable mistake that’s costly in a playoff game. In this case, it likely cost the Cowboys at least three points.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!