Lions still smarting from game-changing call at locker cleanout day

There was nothing anyone from the league could say at this point to make the Lions feel better.

Tim Heitman

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — T-shirts worn by Detroit Lions Dominic Raiola and Golden Tate summed up the team’s feelings in the wake of Sunday’s inexplicable flag pick-up.

Raiola’s shirt: "God forgives, Detroit doesn’t."

Tate’s: "Detroit against the World."

The Lions cleaned out their lockers Monday afternoon at the team’s headquarters, less than 24 hours after their season ended with a heartbreaking 24-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

They were still smarting from a game-turning pass interference call against the Cowboys that got suddenly changed to a no-call even though the penalty had already been marked off and the referee had made the announcement to the crowd.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he received a call from the league before the team’s flight had even left Dallas.

"I’m angry about it and trying to keep my composure here," Caldwell said during his season-ending news conference. "I’m probably more angry for our team, the fans — that’s the thing that stirs your blood — (for) our organization, the Ford family, that’s hard to swallow."

Caldwell wouldn’t elaborate on his conversations with the league, but Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, addressed the controversial call during an interview with the NFL Network.

First of all, Blandino insisted that it was "debatable" whether Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens should have been called for interfering with Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

The penalty would have given the Lions a first down at the Cowboys’ 25-yard line with a three-point lead and less than nine minutes remaining.

Blandino, however, said replays showed that Hitchens clearly pulled Pettigrew’s jersey and should have been called for holding before the pass, which also would have been an automatic first down.

As for how back judge Lee Dyer seemingly got overruled by head linesman Jerry Bergman, here’s the explanation from Blandino:

"It doesn’t necessarily trumped (one call over the other)," Blandino said. "The official that threw the flag, he will get that information (from another official with a different view) and then it’s up to him to pick up the flag or stay with it.

"He (Dyer) threw the penalty flag so he can stay with it. He took the information (from Bergman), he thought about it some more and told the referee (Peter Morelli) that he was going to pick up his flag.

"There’s a lot of conversation that goes on, but ultimately the official that throws the flag, he has to make up his mind. Does he stay with it or is he going to pick it up?"

The problem, Blandino agreed, was that the officials should have settled on their final decision before making an official announcement and spotting the ball.

All three of the officials collectively needed to handle the situation "much better," Blandino said.

"I’d prefer that they kept it (the flag) down," he added.

As for also not calling Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant for running onto the field without a helmet on to argue the initial call, Blandino said that a penalty is "not automatic" in that situation. It’s at the discretion of the officials.

"It very well could have (been a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct) but in the officials’ view it wasn’t," Blandino said. "They gave him some leeway.

"But we certainly would have supported a flag there because players coming off the bench in that manner, that’s not something we condone. But it’s not an automatic."

There was nothing anyone from the league could say at this point to make the Lions feel better. They’re not in a forgiving mood.

"We’re out of the tournament and we can’t do anything about it," linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. "I wouldn’t even want to hear any apology."

Raiola was nearly as emotional Monday as teammate Ndamukong Suh was Sunday when he broke down talking about the loss.

"No words," said Raiola. "I just wanted so much more for this team, guys in this locker room. The city deserves so much more.

"I’m still numb to it. I’ve never seen anything like that. We should be getting ready for Seattle right now, but we’re not."

The officiating snafu ultimately could have decided the game because after a shanked punt on the next play, the Cowboys got the ball with a short field and drove for the winning touchdown to advance to the divisional round while the Lions were eliminated.

Caldwell believes the league needs to expand instant replay to avoid more problems like this in the future.

"I do think in this day and age, the modern times where we have technology that can take out the human factor in key situations, in big games, that we should use that technology to do so, to kind of set the record straight and take the human error out of it," Caldwell said.

"Perhaps from this endeavor, we’ll find a way to maybe improve that portion of the game."


— Lions running back Joique Bell apparently got stepped on by Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey. Bell wouldn’t comment on it.

Replays indicated it wasn’t accidental, but Raiola was asked whether he thinks it will be handled the same way his and Suh’s incidents were in recent weeks.

"Probably won’t," Raiola said. "It goes to show you it happens all the time. You don’t catch the right angle, you don’t catch it on film, you know it’s not going to be handled the same way, especially when you’ve got a star (Cowboys’ logo) on your helmet."

— Raiola, on whether he expects to be back next year for his 15th season in the league: "I’m optimistic. I think I will be. I still think I have a lot to offer this locker room."

— Offensive lineman Travis Swanson, who suffered a knee injury Sunday, is not expected to require surgery.

— Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is scheduled to interview for head-coaching jobs with Atlanta and San Francisco this week. Buffalo has also reportedly shown interest.