Ref: Official’s ‘better view’ led to changed call
ARLINGTON, Texas — Flag thrown? Check.
Penalty called? Check.
Penalty announced to the crowd by the referee? Check.
Yardage marked off? Check.
Ball spotted? Check.
The Detroit Lions thought they had an automatic first down in Dallas territory with a 20-17 lead and less than nine minutes remaining in Sunday’s opening-round playoff game at AT&T Stadium.
But suddenly, inexplicably, seemingly out of nowhere, it was all reversed. The officials decided that there was no penalty after all for pass interference on Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who certainly appeared to make contact with Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew, while throwing his arms up and without looking back for the ball.
It was a total tease. Call the penalty, give the Lions a first down and then take it all back.
Lions fans have had their hearts ripped out by their team so many times over the years. Now the officials were doing it to them.
The Lions ended up punting (Sam Martin’s 10-yard shank), the Cowboys converted a fourth-and-6 from Detroit’s 42 and then scored the winning touchdown with 2:39 remaining for a 24-20 comeback victory.
You couldn’t blame the Lions if they felt like they were robbed.
Asked what explanation he was given for the change of heart from the officials, Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said, "Not good enough. Not a good enough one."
Referee Pete Morelli was interviewed after the game by a pool reporter.
"The back judge threw his flag for defensive pass interference," Morelli explained. "We got other information from another official (the head linesman) from a different angle that thought the contact was minimal and didn’t warrant pass interference.
"He thought it was face-guarding. Face-guarding is not a foul. It is a penalty in college but not in professional football.
"The better view was from the head linesman."
Morelli admitted he should have waited before making the official announcement.
"The information came and then the officials got together a little bit later, after it was given to me," Morelli said. "It would have probably been smoother if we got together."
For any team, this would be a gut-wrenching way to lose.
For the Lions, who still haven’t won a playoff game since 1991, it was even worse.
The coaches, the players, none of them understand the ruling.
"I don’t have to understand it, I guess," quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
Receiver Golden Tate said he could have accepted changing the call if it had happened immediately, but not with the way it was handled.
"Once you spot the ball, I thought it stood," he said.
So did everybody.
"I don’t ever think it really comes down to one call," Caldwell said. "But calls are crucial in games like this where everything’s so tight and everything’s on the line.
"To have something that’s so questionable that occurs, that’s concerning."
Pettigrew, naturally, said he felt was interfered with on the play.
"It’s an easy call to me," he said.
The Cowboys, naturally, saw it differently.
"We didn’t necessarily think that was a pass interference call when they called it," owner Jerry Jones said.
Two rules analysts disagreed. They unequivocally saw it from the Lions’ side.
"It was DPI and it was defensive holding as well," FOX’s Mike Pereira, a former vice president of officiating for the league, tweeted. "Not good."
Jim Daopoulos, a former NFL official and supervisor of officials, added in a tweet: "This was a foul and should not have been picked…I have no idea or reason for the pick up…puzzling!"
"I wish I had an explanation regarding the flag pick up but I too am completely confused with that ruling," Daopoulos added.
Dez Bryant, a receiver for the Cowboys, came onto the field to argue about the original call.
Daopoulos said Bryant should have been penalized for being on the field without wearing a helmet.
Nevertheless, the Lions weren’t putting all the blame for their loss, and the end of their season, on this so very bizarre decision.
They know they could have made a few more plays, or made a few less mistakes, and none of it would have mattered in the end.
"I’m not going to sit up here and act like that was the call that made the difference in the game," Caldwell said. "We still had our chances."
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh also wouldn’t put it on the officials.
"We can’t let just one play define the game," Suh said. "I think you would be doing discredit to the whole game."
Unfortunately, some might say that the officials did exactly that.