The Green Bay Packers had one of the most exciting wins of the 2015 NFL season Thursday night, with Aaron Rodgers throwing a 70-yard Hail Mary for the game-winning touchdown against the Lions.
The touchdown completed an improbable 20-point comeback in a game where the Packers looked worryingly flat against a hot Lions team.
Of course, the comeback wouldn’t have been possible without some horrible mistakes from the Lions, one in particular that made Rodgers’ Hail Mary possible in the first place.
On third-and-10, the final play of the game, Aaron Rodgers completed a pass to James Jones, who lateraled it to Richard Rodgers, who threw it back to Aaron. The Lions caught Rodgers and tackled him to the ground, effectively ending the game, with no time on the clock.
However, the referees threw a flag on the play, whistling Lions defensive end Devin Taylor for a facemask penalty:
However, a closer look showed that Taylor may not really have gotten that much of Rodgers’ facemask to be whistled for a penalty. It looked like he was going for the tackle, missed Rodgers as Rodgers dodged him, then got a piece of the facemask before bringing Rodgers down.
According to NFL Rule 12.2.5, “no player shall twist, turn, or pull the facemask of an opponent in any direction.”
This is generally interpreted as meaning a facemask foul needs to meet two criteria: 1) the opponent must grab the facemask; and 2) he must cause the head to twist.
Based on the replay, there is not much of a grasp and it is unclear if the grabbing actually caused the twisting of Rodgers’ helmet.
However, it might not matter. In this case, the officials followed proper protocol by erring on the side of safety. In a close call like this, the referees will be cautious and call the penalty if it looks like there was some degree of contact. At the very least, it looked like Taylor got a piece of Rodgers’ facemask.
Dean Blandino, NFL vice president of officiating, echoed this on the NFL Network.
“I’m not convinced that it wasn’t a facemask, even looking at the replay,” Blandino said. “But live at full speed, the referee is going to see that hand up at the mask and the head turned — he’s going to make that call every time.”
It also didn’t help afterward that Rodgers’ chin strap was misaligned.
Even with time expired, this gave the Packers one more down, which is all Aaron Rodgers needed to throw his deep bomb.
After the game, Taylor didn’t seem to agree with the call, saying, “It’s whatever the refs call. I can’t control whatever they decide. I can just play ball, keep going. … I didn’t believe I touched it.”
Lions coach Jim Caldwell echoed this, saying, “Didn’t think it was, but because you don’t think it was or I don’t think it was, it was called. Therefore, it is, and we just got to find a way to make a play.”
There was also some question about whether the Lions should have been flagged anyway for contact to the helmet of a quarterback. However, because of the laterals that preceded the play, Rodgers was no longer the quarterback — he was a runner, meaning contact with the helmet is no longer relevant.
Either way, it’s a controversial call that has the NFL world buzzing this morning. While it’s fair for Lions players to be upset after playing a full 60-minute game with the lead only to have it overturned on a final play, they should also be equally upset for letting the Packers back into it when they were up 20-0.
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