The Detroit Lions lost to the Dallas Cowboys 24-20 after a game-changing penalty call was overturned without explanation in the fourth quarter.
On 3rd and 1 with 8:25 left and a 20-17 lead, Lions QB Matthew Stafford threw a pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens was called for pass interference. He was facing away from the ball and had both his hands on Pettigrew.
FOX’s refereeing expert Mike Pereira called it a clear penalty:
The referee, Pete Morelli, announced the 15-yard pass interference penalty to the crowd, giving Detroit a first down deep in Dallas territory.
“Pass interference, 59, defence, automatic first down,” you can hear Morelli say on the broadcast.
Moments later, Morelli announced that there was no penalty. The flag was picked up:
After the game, Morelli explained why the flag was picked up. He said that a second official (the head linesman) overruled the initial pass inference call because he felt “the contact was minimal.” From Morelli:
“The back judge threw his flag for defensive pass interference. We got other information from another official from a different angle that thought the contact was minimal and didn’t warrant pass interference. He thought it was face-guarding.”
Face-guarding is not a penalty.
Morelli acknowledged that he made a mistake by announcing the penalty before consulting the other officials, saying, “It would have probably been smoother if we got together.”
Picking up a flag is a relatively common occurrence in the NFL. But picking up a flag after the penalty has already been announced is not.
No one could figure out why the flag was picked up at the time. Pereira said he can’t remember a call being picked up that late, and ex-coach Tony Dungy was stunned:
That’s pretty unbelievable that they could call pass interference and then pick up the flag with no explanation?? Not sure why?
— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) January 5, 2015
The Cowboys vigorously contested the call, with Dez Bryant running out onto the field, but there didn’t appear to be a group discussion among the referees on the field:
It’s a massive, massive call. If the penalty stands, the Lions have a 20-17 lead with eight minutes left and they’re in field goal range. Instead, the Cowboys took over and won the game, and the Lions are going home.
“I didn’t get an explanation. It was ridiculous,” Pettigrew told NFL Network’s Albert Breer after the game. “He ran through me.”
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said, “They didn’t give me a good enough explanation.”
Even Cowboys player Barry Church said the penalty should have stood.
We’ve reached out to the NFL for further explanation.
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