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Bad sports, good sports: Totally bizarre officiating sinks Lions

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What’s worse than a terrible call that changes the outcome of a game? How about a terrible call that does that same thing but does it in a playoff game? The result is the same, but the stakes are so much higher. That is exactly what happened in the game between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, and the Lions are finished for the season because of it.

In case you weren’t watching, the incident in question happened during the fourth quarter with the Lions leading the Cowboys, 20-17, and driving to try to increase their lead. Slightly on the Dallas side of midfield, Detroit had a third-and-one. Matthew Stafford through a pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew that would have resulted in a first down. Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens was covering Pettigrew and doing it badly. First, he grabbed Pettigrew’s jersey before the ball had even been thrown. Then, without ever looking back for the ball, he basically barreled right into Pettigrew’s chest as the receiver was reaching over Hitchens shoulders to try to make the catch. The ball hit Hitchens in the back and fell to the ground. A flag was immediately thrown, as everyone in the stadium and in the television viewing audience knew that pass interference had occurred. Here is where things got crazy. The referee, Pete Morelli, announced the penalty and they walked off the yardage. The Lions would have the ball at the Dallas 29. Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant ran onto the field, helmetless, and argued against the penalty call. Suddenly, the call was somehow reversed. The ball was moved back to the original line of scrimmage and the flag was picked up. No explanation was given. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in a football game.

Everything fell apart for the Lions at that point. Faced with a fourth-and-one, they tried to draw Dallas offsides, and when that failed, they punted, thinking they would pin the Cowboys deep in their end. Instead, punter Sam Martin shanked his kick, which traveled all of ten yards before going out of bounds. Demoralized after the inexplicable reversed call and the terrible punt, the Detroit defense then failed to stop the Cowboys offense, which went down and scored a touchdown to take the lead. The Lions could not get it going on their final possession, and they lost the game, 24-20.

I truly could not believe what I was seeing when that play occurred. First, holding should have been called on Hitchens, even before the obvious pass interference. That call has been made constantly all year by NFL officials. Dez Bryant should have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for entering the field of play without his helmet when he ran on to argue. Even if those weren’t called, pass interference was called and it was the correct call. In all of the stories I read about this, not a single person said he had ever seen a flag picked up after the call had been announced and the penalty yardage marked off. It just doesn’t happen. When he finally spoke to the media, Morelli said that another official with a better view of the play than the one that threw the flag insisted that it was not interference, which is why they reversed the call. Ridiculous.

Sure, you could say that the Lions should not have allowed the Cowboys to go down and score after the bad call. You could blame the punter for his atrocious kick. Those things were big factors, of course. You can not discount, however, how different the game would have been if Detroit had gotten the ball at the Dallas 29 at that point in the game. I fully believe that they would have won the game and moved on in the playoffs if this travesty had not occurred. Instead, we got to see Jerry Jones and stupid Chris Christie jumping around and hugging in Jones’ box at AT&T field. That’s something no one needs to see.

The next day, Dean Blandino, the VP of Officiating for the NFL, said the flag should not have been picked up. A lot of good that does the Lions.

Bad sports, continued:

2) A few years back, when Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach of the Florida State football team after Bobby Bowden retired, I had nothing against the guy. He seemed like a good coach and a decent man. After all of the Jameis Winston stuff over the past couple of years and the way Fisher has defended him and refused to deal with the reality of the situation, I have lost whatever respect I had for him. The behavior of his team at the end of the Rose Bowl on Thursday solidified my opinion. After being crushed by the Ducks, 59-20, most of the Seminole players walked off the field and into the locker room without shaking hands with the Oregon players. A few of the players, including Winston, surprisingly, managed to stay and show some sportsmanship, but the rest of them looked like a bunch of babies as they fled the field.

3) Some of the Oregon players put on a questionable display of their own at the end of that game. Three of them were spotted doing FSU’s “tomahawk chop” while replacing the usual chant with the words “no means no.” This was obviously directed at James Winston, the FSU quarterback who was accused of rape last year. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said the players involved would be disciplined. I didn’t like the timing of the display, because it just seemed like piling on after the big win, but I have no issue with the chant itself. It seems like a good message to me. The fact that the Oregon players will be disciplined for the chant while Winston was never actually disciplined for what he did seems quite unfortunate.

4) The Arizona Cardinals had a great season going when quarterback Carson Palmer got hurt. With backup Drew Stanton in the lineup, their offense was less effective but the team was still winning. Once Stanton got hurt in week 15, the Cardinals offense disappeared and so did its championship hopes. After two losses to close out the regular season, they played the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday. Third-stringer Ryan Lindley started at quarterback. The Cardinals made the Panthers look like world-beaters, accumulating only 78 total yards of offense and losing, 27-16. Pathetic.

5) Junior Galette, a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, became the latest NFL player to be charged with domestic abuse when he was arrested on Monday morning.

6) Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera’s house caught on fire on Sunday night with the family sleeping inside. No one was hurt, but the house was significantly damaged.

7) The Pittsburgh Panthers had a monumental collapse at the end of their bowl game against Houston on Friday, and I loved every minute of it. Pitt led 34-13 with less than four minute to play in the game. The Cougars then scored a touchdown, recovered an onside kick, scored another touchdown, recovered yet another onside kick, and then scored a third touchdown, followed by a gutsy two-point conversion to take a 35-34 lead. Amazingly, there were still 59 seconds left. Pitt got the back to midfield, but star receiver Tyler Boyd dropped a pass while wide-open and Pitt failed to get into field goal range to try to win it.

8) Long-time ESPN anchor Stuart Scott died of cancer on Sunday after a battle that started back in 2007. I always found him very entertaining, and he was a genuinely good person by all accounts. I am sorry to see him pass.

Good sports:

1) Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon finished an amazing season by running for 251 yards in his team’s win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl on Thursday. He ended the season with 2587 yards, just missing the all-time record held by Barry Sanders (2628).

2) Unlike the Arizona Cardinals, the Ohio State Buckeyes did just fine with their third-string quarterback, beating top-seeded Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday. Cardale Jones led his team to a 42-35 win and will face Oregon in the title game next week.

Bad sports, good sports appears early each week

Alan Spoll is a software quality assurance director from the suburbs of Philadelphia where he lives with his wonderful wife and children. He has spent his entire life as a passionate fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers, and Penn State. Recent Phillies success aside, you will understand his natural negativity. Follow me on Twitter - @DocAlan02
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2 Responses to “Bad sports, good sports: Totally bizarre officiating sinks Lions”

  1. (Sigh) I am an unreformed Lions fan. I watched the game and began to feel the desperate tingle of hope late in the game. And then…the UN-call.

    You said it all. It wasn’t just a bad call or a missed call – that happens all of the time. It was an unbelievable sequence of events and makes one wonder what the heck the refs were thinking in those few minutes. If Chris Christie wanted to make most of America outside of Texas hate him , he picked the right place to do it.

  2. It is rare to see poetic justice in sports and so soon. Too bad Jerruh.

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