January 4, 2015: The Day that Showcased the Epitome of Life as a Detroit Lions Fan
There it is. Flag on the play. Pass Interference penalty announced on the loudspeaker. Penalty yards are physically marked off. Then all of a sudden, mysteriously, no penalty. No explanation. That is the focal point for one of the most enraging moments any Detroit Lions fan has had during a game, perhaps ever.
There have been so... many... times... the Detroit Lions have been on the short end of officiating over the years. The Calvin Johnson catch that wasn't a catch in Chicago, Seattle illegally batting the ball out of the endzone, the phantom face mask before Aaron Rodgers threw a hail mary touchdown-winning pass.. and these are just a few more recent examples among many. And if not these most blatant bad calls or no calls, the Lions also seem to be on the short end of weird quirks in the NFL's rules that come into play at the worst time. Sometimes rules that we as fans had no idea existed until they creep up on the Detroit Lions. It's almost like the team is a trial experiment for the deepest depths of the NFL Rule Book.
Now, I am not one to ever say "the refs cost us the game". I am in the camp that if your team takes care of business, bad officiating doesn't affect the outcome. But at the same time, no one can deny that the Lions often have weird things happen at the worst times. And even the best NFL teams find themselves in close games where one bad call can steal a game away at the worst or change the momentum at the least.
But on January 4, 2015, this was all taken to a new level when they were in the late stages of a Wild Card Playoff game at Dallas against the Cowboys. Yes, the Lions made several mistakes before and after this play and still could have done a much better job despite this call. But literally, everyone, Lions fans or football fans in general, were confused and mystified by what happened.
There were just over eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter and the Lions were driving with the ball near midfield. They were leading 20-17 and had a 3rd & 1. Matthew Stafford threw a pass to Brandon Pettigrew when linebacker Anthony Hitchens was flagged for what looked like a clear pass interference penalty. And a flag was thrown and the call was announced by Referee Pete Morelli. The penalty yards were even marked off. Then all of a sudden the flag was picked up and no explanation was given at the time, at least to the crowd and anyone watching on television.
If that wasn't crazy enough, it was the reaction of the Dallas Cowboys, in particular Dez Bryant, when the flag was thrown that made the situation even more maddening. Bryant ran out on the field without a helmet screaming at the official who threw the penalty flag. So even if the pass interference call was picked up for some reason, how in the world was Bryant not called for unsportsmanlike conduct for his actions? Of course, Dallas went on to take the lead and win eventually, 24-20, after the Lions were clearly deflated after that sequence of events.
There is much more that could be looked at in this game, but why? Lions fans know this was the closest they had come in years, no, decades, to get that elusive second playoff win since 1957. The Lions had gone 11-5 in the 2014 season and missed out on hosting a playoff game by winning the NFC North division due to a loss at Green Bay the week before. It sure seemed like the season where the Lions had a window for success unlike any they had seen since the 1991 season. Ironically, the last time the Lions won a playoff game had been against the Dallas Cowboys after going 12-4 in 1991. They earned a first-round bye and advanced to the NFC Championship that year after beating the Cowboys 38-6. Even a really, really, really bad call would not have stopped the Lions that day.
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