2015 NFL Playoffs: Cast a Vote on Controversial PI Call
The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys Wild Card matchup saw one of the biggest controversies of recent memory in the NFL, and it could not be reviewed.
Detroit had the ball with 8:25 left in the fourth quarter and was clinging to a, 20-17, lead. On 3rd-and-1, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a 15-yard pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Cowboys rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens covered Pettigrew on the play and did not turn his head around to look for the ball. Pettigrew reached back over Hitchens' shoulders, but the ball hit Hitchens square in the back. The two players made contact with each other before the ball arrived and right as the ball hit Hitchens although it was not major contact.
Referee Pete Morelli made the call for pass interference that would have given Detroit a first down, and at the very least, allowed the Lions to continue to take time off the clock. Detroit would have also been at the Cowboys 30-yard line so already in field goal range.
But after calling the penalty, Morelli overruled the call which made it 4th-and-1. Detroit was left with no choice but to punt, and Dallas scored the game-winning touchdown on the next drive.
According to the Detroit News, after the game Morelli explained that back judge Lee Dyer threw the flag for pass interference while head linesman Jerry Bergman stepped in and said Hitchens was only face-guarding.
Face-guarding is defined as impeding the line of vision of the player such defender is guarding, which is legal in the NFL but not in college or high school football. Pass interference, however, is when the defender makes contact with the offensive player whether face-guarding is occurring or not.
Therefore, face-guarding is not the issue here; it is whether Hitchens makes contact with Pettigrew while the ball arrives. The back judge would argue enough contact was made while the head linesman would likely say the contact was not substantial. It's a judgment call, and Morelli went with the latter.
That's why Football Nation wants to hear from you! Vote in our poll whether or not you think Morelli and the other officials got the call correct.
Another notable angle worth discussing in this story is the fact the officiating crew that worked the Lions and Cowboys playoff game never worked together before Sunday. I could not find a source to confirm that or find a source explaining how each official is chosen and reassigned for the playoffs, but it is a widely known fact among die-hard NFL fans that these playoffs crews are not the normal regular season crews. They are so called "All-Star" crews, so each official is supposed to be one of the best at his position. FOX Officiating expert Mike Pereira mentioned this at the top of the Lions and Cowboys telecast.
The fact that Morelli and the rest of the crew never worked together could very well have effected the outcome of the non-pass interference call and really all the calls from Sunday's game. That's speculation on my part, but it only makes sense.
What doesn't make sense is the NFL asking officials to learn their teammates tendencies on the fly. Yes, the officials are a team just like the two on the field and the one in the booth. FOX doesn't assemble a "dream team" for its broadcast: Joe Buck works with Troy Aikman in front of the camera, and the producer, director, cameramen, all the way down to the statisticians, are the same people they worked with all season.
The real shame in all this is Morelli is getting the brunt of the blame for this controversy. It wasn't his area of responsibility on the field, and therefore, he has to trust that Bergman had a better angle of the play than Dyer did. And Morelli's reward for that trust ... the media's questions and the fans' outrage.
Even if Morelli, in his own heart, now believes Bergman got the call wrong, he can't call him out for his mistake. That's not what a good teammate would do.
Anyway, without further ado, cast your vote in our poll. You may vote once per hour. Voting closes on Jan. 8 at noon. Check back after that for full results.
Also, feel free to leave a comment below.