By Dan McLaughlin @McGloogly @gridirongents @TLE_Sport
I wasn’t going to do this. I really wasn’t. But I went and opened my big mouth on the Gridiron Gentlemen Podcast about what I believe happened. Well I say “what I believe happened”, but in actual fact I think made a bad job of putting my point across, so here I am trying to put my point across. It’s actually a good chance to look at one of the biggest issues of the season. So let’s take a look it – one of the more controversial moments from this weekend’s Playoff match-ups.
It’s 7 minutes into the 4th Quarter. Matt Stafford attempts a pass to Brandon Pettigrew, with Anthony Hitchens covering the pass. If you take everything away from it, Pettigrew doesn’t make the pass, it’s 4th & 1. But really it didn’t go down that way. Hitchens was all over Pettigrew and by that I mean, didn’t-even-make-a-play-on-the-ball kind of way. It was flagrant Pass Interference, completely obvious. If that wasn’t bad enough, Dez Bryant entering the field of play, when he had no business being on the field, surely made it worse. But the final “uh-oh”, moment came when, after referee Pete Morelli called Defensive Pass Interference, one of the other referees on his team (a true detective would have learnt his name here), picked up the flag. This was then exacerbated by the team not explaining the call…nothing… literally it just carried on as if nothing had happened –the Lions brought their punt team on. So this is bad, really bad, but wait… it gets worse. On the following drive, down 17-20 the Cowboys’ quarter-back Tony Romo made a play on 4th down to Jason Witten, which gave them a 1st down that eventually led to a Touchdown. Unfortunately there was an obvious hold on Ndamukong Suh by Cowboys Guard Ronald Leary. Two calls that were instrumental in the Lions’ eventual defeat – adding to their long list of Playoff losses.
Naturally social media exploded and for Lions fans, rightly so. This has been the latest in a long stretch of Playoff losses and to be honest, the heartache of Lions fans doesn’t end just with Playoff losses. It was only 6 years ago that the Lions went 0-16. Try and imagine that. 0-16. We wait 8 months for the NFL season to start. So imagine that, then imagine your team not winning a single game. That has to hurt. So then imagine how they feel when their team has finally got it together, with decent talent on Offence and Defence: a bad call brings their consecutive playoff loss total up to 8. The last time they won a Playoff game was 1991 – their only Playoff win in the Super bowl era. So yeah, Lions fans have the right to be a little annoyed.
However I’ve heard some theories that I can’t get on board with. The theory that this was a fix doesn’t wash with me. Yes there is footage of Vice President of Officiating, Dean Blandino, leaving Stephen Jones’ Dallas Cowboys party bus, which is weird and more importantly, gross. But that was back in August, back when I don’t seem to remember anyone really kicking up a stink, although they should, well in fact everyone should. For starters in a league where we have seen no end of issues surrounding domestic abuse, this could and probably should come across as chauvinistic. Secondly it could be seen as collusion, something we shouldn’t be waiting until the Wild Card Round of the Playoffs to discuss.
Despite this I don’t think there is a conspiracy to keep the Lions out of the Playoffs – I just don’t think that’s how it works. If it is, it’s a deeper problem than this game and it’s been going on all Season. However, do you think we’d be watching the Wild Card games that we watched this weekend if it was a fix? This weekend’s action was a terrible advert for expanding the Playoffs to 16 teams. All the games aside from this one, let’s be honest, weren’t wonderful. If the NFL were fixing games, we’d have seen far better quality fixtures at the weekend.
The truth to me is just as sinister though. I think there’s not just been a rise in poor calls, but also a rise in inconsistency, which is the bigger issue. The fact that Dean Blandino came out and pretty much shrugged his shoulders on this weekend’s poor calls, says to me that there are no steadfast rules any more. One referee’s Pass Interference is another referee’s incidental contact, which leads to the issue with the referee grouping in the Playoffs. In the Playoffs, instead of keeping the referee groupings that have been together all season, they split them up in favour of putting in the top ranked refs, meaning they lose the rapport they’ve had with each other all season, meaning that not only is there inconsistency amongst different groups of referees, but also within the group, which is evident by the incident in the Cowboys game. This is a huge problem we’ve seen all year. Now that it’s happened in a prime-time Playoff game, it should result in a significant change: when the owners meet, this needs to be at the top of their agenda.
Before I wrap this up though, there is one final thing I want to cover. Whatever could have happened in that game is just talk. No one knows what could have happened if the Lions won that Pass Interference call. Being in Field Goal range hasn’t exactly been a consistent game winner for Detroit. The Lions have had no end of problems in the Kicking department and although they seem to have steadied the ship, you really never know. Finally, teams have to play in spite of bad decisions and not let them have too much of an effect on the game. After the Lions lost the bogus call, they elected to punt the ball on 4th & 1 in a win or lose situation. Then they managed to mess up the punt, and only advanced the ball 10 yards. Furthermore, they only managed to score three points in the 2nd half, which says to me that despite overall statistically being the better team, they didn’t kill the game off when they had the chance.
So there it is. I don’t believe this is a big conspiracy, but I do think it’s a serious concern, not just in this game but for the whole season. This doesn’t make it any easier I’m afraid Lions fans, and honestly it’s not great that you guys have had such a horrific run of luck, but what happened in that game is just football. On the plus side it is clearly a step in the right direction. With a few more Offensive players and if they can either keep hold of/replace Suh they could find themselves in the Playoffs again next year.
For more from Dan, visit www.gridirongentlemen.com