Refs Cheat Detroit in Dallas: Five Things Learned
Dallas 24, Detroit 20
Usually I have some interesting preface to these types of articles but today I'm getting down to the meat and potatoes forthwith.
What did we learn from this game?
1. While we already know that the officiating leaves much to be desired on a regular basis, the fourth quarter pass interference flag thrown on Cowboy LB Anthony Hitchens against Lion TE Brandon Pettigrew that was subsequently picked up was, perhaps, the worst example of officiating ineptitude this year; even rivaling the "tuck rule" in the 2002 AFC Divisional Playoff game that pitted the New England Patriots against the Oakland Raiders. For one, Hitchens never once looked back for the ball, instead, running over Pettigrew. Secondly, upon replay, it was clear that Hitchens had a hold of Pettigrew's jersey which, even if not worthy of a pass interference flag, was, in fact, a hold. Apparently the official who threw the flag thought Hitchens' actions merited a penalty but referee Pete Morelli, in his infinite wisdom, overruled the penalty. Even former Vice President of NFL Officiating Mike Pereira--with whom I don't normally agree--called the negation horrible. This forced Detroit to punt and then led to an eight-yard touchdown pass from QB Tony Romo to WR Terrance Williams (his second of the game) with 5:38 left. On the Lions' subsequent possession, QB Matthew Stafford was sacked by DE Demarcus Lawrence and fumbled the ball, thus securing the win for Dallas.
Incidentally, on the Hitchens' non-call, WR Dez Bryant ran out onto the field to argue the field, without his helmet, and, again, the officials missed a 15-yard personal foul that should have been called on Bryant. According to Mike Florio, via Pro Football Talk:
"In addition to the decision of the officials to throw the flag but ultimately not enforce a pass interference call against Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens, Dallas avoided a second penalty on the play.
After the flag was thrown, Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant sprinted to the field without a helmet to argue the call loudly with the officials. Bryant wasn’t penalized for the move, which would have given the Lions 15 yards and a first down, extending a drive when the Lions led, 20-17.
Ultimately, the Lions should have had a first down inside the Dallas 15, since the penalty on Hitchens should have given the Lions the ball at the 29, and then the Lions should have been awarded half the distance on the Bryant penalty. Instead, the Lions took a delay-of-game call on fourth and one, moving the ball from the Dallas 41 to the Dallas 46. Then, a 10-yard shank punt gave the Cowboys the ball on their own 36, 64 yards from the game-winning touchdown.
Still, even without the Hitchens penalty, the Lions should have had a first down on the Dallas 26, because Dez Bryant should have received a personal foul for inexplicably running onto the field without a helmet at a time when the defense was playing." (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2015/01/04/cowboys-avoided-another-penalty-on-disputed-play/)
Such blatantly bad officiating is reminiscent of myriad games; most glaringly, as of late, the 2014 NFC Championship Game where many have argued that it was evident that Seattle was "supposed" to beat San Francisco (yet the former still almost blew it). One can simply Google "NFL officials conspiracy" for numerous articles and editorials on this subject, so I will leave it at that for now. At any rate, today's officiating ensured that the Cowboys moved on, whether they earned it or not.
2. Speaking of penalties, have you noticed that whenever a player drops a pass/is tackled/is sacked/whatever he immediately looks for a penalty flag? Since when has it become the norm for one's incompetence to be automatically blamed on someone else? This is simply a reflection of the broader world where individuals forego taking responsibility for their actions and is, truly, a sad state of affairs both on the gridiron and off.
3. The Lions have a great defense and should be proud of themselves. During the regular season, S Glover Quinn led the league in interceptions with seven while LB DeAndre Levy was second in the league with 151 tackles (behind Carolina LB Luke Kuechly with 153). Today, the Lions sacked Romo six times (two critical ones by DE Ndamukong Suh), forced two fumbles, and, in the first half, held Dallas to 80 yards (not counting the 72-yard touchdown pass from Romo to Williams). S James Ihedigbo and LB Tahir Whitehead led the tackling brigade with seven and six, respectively, and a sack apiece.
4. I guess Romo can take the monkey off his back--at least this week. Today, he managed 19-of-31 for 293 yards and two touchdowns. Interestingly, the origin of the term "monkey on one's back" is derived from the late-1800's-era original expression, "monkey on the roof" which referred to a mortgage; an oftentimes crippling hardship. Later, "on the back" referred to any type of unpleasant burden and in the 1940s was used to describe a drug addiction. Romo's "monkey" was his 1-3 record in the playoffs which, today, improved to 2-3. Stafford's monkey remains (albeit not as large a monkey as Romo's; think tamarin versus capuchin) as his playoff record worsens to 0-2.
Thus, the Lions extend their playoff win drought to 23 seasons (their last victory occurred in 2001 versus Dallas) and remain second behind the Bengals (at 24 seasons) who also lost today. Detroit's last "championship" appearance and win was the 1957 NFL Championship Game where the Lions beat the Cleveland Browns, 59-14. Currently, Detroit--along with the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Cleveland Browns--have never made it to a Super Bowl.
However, of interest (and a positive for Detroit) is that offensively, the Lions became the first team in 12 years of postseason play with a 99-yard touchdown drive; this in the first quarter that culminated with a RB Reggie Bush 18-yard rushing score and was helped by a running-into-the-punter penalty on Dallas' LB Dekoda Watson to keep Detroit's drive alive.
5. Who'd have thunk it would be Dallas' defense that would win the game for them? With all the talk about the Cowboys' seventh-ranked offense, the defense was frequently overlooked. In fact, WR Dez Bryant only managed three catches today for 48 yards (one was a 43-yarder) while NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray rushed for "only" 75 yards and one score (he amassed a whopping 1,845 yards during the regular season). Today, the Dallas defense sacked Stafford three times, intercepted Stafford once, and forced three fumbles; in addition to the (alleged) stop as the Lions were driving in the fourth quarter that, if penalized correctly, likely would have earned the latter more points; a K Matt Prater field goal at the very least (who, by the way, was a perfect 2/2 on extra points and 2/2 on field goals). Whereas an additional Detroit score might not have changed the outcome of the game, that the Lions were prevented from such an attempt will be the subject of much discourse to come.
As mentioned, next week the Cowboys travel to frigid Lambeau Field in Green Bay to take on the Packers who are a perfect 8-0 at home this season.