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Phantom tripping penalty dooms Cowboys' last effort in loss to Patriots

The New England Patriots’ defense stifled the Cowboys all afternoon on Sunday, but Dallas still had a chance to pull out a win at the end.

That is until a phantom tripping penalty doomed their last effort.

Trailing 13-9, the Cowboys took over possession at their own 8-yard line with 2:38 remaining after a Patriots punt. The Cowboys picked up a first down and faced third-and-1 at their own 35-yard line, where Dak Prescott found Ezekiel Ellliott on a short crossing route that saw the Dallas running back gain first-down yardage before running out of bounds with 1:53 remaining.

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How is this tripping?

But officials threw a flag in the area of a holding penalty on the offense. The penalty wasn’t the ever-present holding call that plagues offensive linemen, though.

Officials flagged Dallas center Travis Frederick for tripping Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower as he rushed Prescott. It resulted in a 10-yard penalty that backed the Cowboys up to third-and-11 instead of a first down.

Hightower fell down as he attacked the Cowboys line up the middle. But replay doesn’t show anything resembling tripping or any other penalty by the Dallas offensive line.

That was actually tripping call against the Cowboys on Sunday. According to ESPN, there had been only seven total tripping penalties in the NFL entering Week 12.

Cowboys don’t convert after penalty backs them up

After the penalty, Prescott threw an incomplete pass on third down, and an apparent fourth-down completion to Amari Cooper beyond the chains was overturned when replay showed that he didn’t secure the ball before it hit the ground.

The Patriots took over on downs and ran off all but the final second of the game clock. Dallas’ desperation play from its own 15-yard line was unsuccessful, and the Patriots walked away with a 13-9 victory.

Despite a difficult day against New England's defense, Dallas had a chance to win late until officials got involved. (David Butler II-USA Today)

New England improved to 10-1 to maintain its stranglehold on the top seed in the AFC, while the Cowboys fell to 6-5 and missed a chance to further their one-game lead over the 5-6 Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East.

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