Controversial coin flip call to start game has Cowboys’ and Rams’ heads spinning

Quarterbacks Dak Prescott of the Cowboys and Jared Goff of the Rams
Quarterbacks Dak Prescott of the Cowboys and Jared Goff of the Rams exchange pats after the game, which started with a controversial coin flip.
(Richard Rodriguez / Getty Images)

What a flipping embarrassment.

A miscue — or maybe just a misunderstanding — before the beginning of the game Sunday nearly led to the Rams receiving the opening kickoff at the start of both halves.

The confusion happened at the coin flip, when the Dallas Cowboys won the toss and quarterback Dak Prescott told referee Walt Anderson his team wanted “defense,” adding the Cowboys wanted to “kick it that way,” pointing toward the Rams.

What the Cowboys really wanted was to receive the kickoff to start the second half. But by asking to start the game by kicking off — as opposed to saying they defer — they inadvertently gave the Rams the right to decide how they wanted to open the second half. That gave the Rams the right to receive both kickoffs.

Judging by their smiling reactions, the three Rams — Jared Goff, Eric Weddle and Johnny Hekker — clearly realized the Cowboys had made a mistake. But before the players headed back to the sideline, Prescott said: “We defer to the second half.”


Anderson responded: “OK, you’re going to kick.”

The Rams need a lot of help to make the playoffs following a 44-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that Aaron Donald described as embarrassing.

Dec. 15, 2019

Throughout the first half, the Rams believed that they would be receiving the kick to start the second half. Fox announced as much during its broadcast.

That’s when the NFL got involved, with Al Riveron, the league’s head of officiating, reviewing the tape and deciding to allow the Cowboys to begin the third quarter by receiving the kick.

“If you look at what happened and you see that the Cowboys actually say three different things,” Riveron said, “and then we hear at the end where they say ‘defer.’ So we go ahead and look at it. We pulled the audio. We knew that I was going to have a conversation with Walt Anderson at halftime to make it right.”

The Rams didn’t learn until they were heading out of the locker room tunnel for the second half that they, in fact, would be kicking off.

“I don’t know how or why or what happened,” Goff said. “But we had talked to the referees the whole game in the first half, and we were told we would get it in the second half. I don’t think it would have changed much with the outcome of the game, but it was a little weird, definitely.”

Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence took the blame for the confusion.

“It was my fault, actually,” he said. “I wanted the defense to go out first. I felt like we had a lot of energy and we had something to prove, especially after that playoff loss. It was time to get down and dirty. … We were going to receive the ball, but I called to kick it, defer it. So once you say ‘kick,’ I think that means you kick off, and then you have to kick off again in the second half. I don’t know, but we were supposed to say defer.”


Said Prescott: “Definitely a weird start. … Just a use of bad words by me. We listened to the audio and got it figured out, but it wasn’t the cleanest coin flip I’ve ever been a part of.”

A look at the numbers behind the Rams’ 44-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sunday.

Dec. 15, 2019