In one of the oddest developments you’ll ever see in an NFL game, a pass interference call was reversed, and it may have influenced the outcome of Sunday’s NFC Wild Card game between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions.
With his team clinging to a 20-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford uncorked a pass toward Brandon Pettigrew, who drew a pass interference penalty on Dallas defender Anthony Hitchens. The officials, however, reversed the call, forcing Detroit to punt.
The Cowboys went on to win, 24-20.
How did that pass interference call change the game for the Lions?
“Well, if they get that call, they’re – at worst – within field goal range and obviously get to keep holding on to the ball and playing keep away from DeMarco Murray and (Tony) Romo and Dez (Bryant),” NFL.com analyst Dave Dameshek said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “The odds obviously go way up if they get that call. It was just so weird, wasn’t it? The entire process. It’s also sadly ironic. I’m kind of with you. I wish we didn’t have to worry about what the referee’s calls were at the end of the game, but it is sadly ironic that the two most ambiguous calls, the toughest calls to make play after play – holding and pass interference – are the ones you can’t review. Somehow that seems wrong to me. Everything else we can review, but you can’t look at those again. Because throughout the game, I thought there were a lot of holds. I thought it was a poorly officiating game overall.”
Then again, it’s almost always dangerous – not to mention incorrect – to attribute the entire outcome of a game to one call (or non-call). After all, the Lions didn’t score a touchdown after the first quarter, Matthew Stafford committed three turnovers (one interception, two fumbles), and Detroit gave up several big plays on defense, including a 76-yard touchdown reception by Terrance Williams.
Detroit’s fate was a stark contrast to that of Baltimore, which marched into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers, 30-17, on Saturday. While Stafford remains winless against winning teams on the road, Joe Flacco was once again a playoff warrior, finishing 18-of-29 for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
After beating the Steelers, Flacco discussed the importance of playing not to lose.
“He said it’s just not worrying about consequences,” Dameshek said. “You have to go for it and not play to lose and all that kind of rhetoric. And practically, I do think Jim Caldwell and company should have gone for it on 4th-and-1 from the (Dallas 45). If they get that first down, that’s another opportunity to really milk the clock and play keep away. They end up punting the ball and the football gods (punished) them for it by letting the ball only go about 10 yards. They should have gone for it on 4th-and-1. That was a big play.”
As it stands, Dallas, which went 8-0 on the road this season, heads to Green Bay this Sunday to face the Packers, which went 8-0 at home. Kickoff is at 1:05 p.m. ET.
Detroit, meanwhile, hasn’t won a playoff game since 1992. The Lions are 0-7 during that stretch.