Lions-Cowboys Breakdown

Here’s the best way I can think of to frame the series of events that occurred in the fourth quarter. If you’re an NFL fan, you’re pretty confident the Lions got screwed by the referees. If you’re a Cowboys fan, you think the refs got everything right. That should tell you something was amiss. There are three disputed plays: the Cowboys needing a first down to extend their drive, Tony Romo completed a first-down pass to Jason Witten on fourth down; the Lions needing a first down on third down, Matthew Stafford aimed a pass at Brandon Pettigrew that fell incomplete – defensive pass interference was called initially and then redacted, making it 4th and 1 for the Lions; on the same play, a helmetless Dez Bryant left the Cowboys sideline after the play ended to dispute the pass interference call against the Cowboys.

As I see it, you (a Cowboys fan) can successfully argue that the refs made the right call on one of these plays, and possibly even two. But not all three. I’ll address them in order, from most defensible to most egregious.

#1.) Looking at the tape, I can see why the refs picked up the flag on the pass interference call against the Cowboys. The sideline judge had a view other referees didn’t and saw plenty of hand grappling between Pettigrew and Hitchens before the ball arrived. And yes, despite what some people are saying, NFL referee crews do pick up flags after conferring – it just doesn’t happen that often, especially on third down in a playoff game. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right call. Cowboys fans, that’s your best defense.

All that said, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino went on PFT saying that he would have called defensive holding, which still would have resulted in a crucial Detroit first down.

#2.) Since Sunday, the NFL has admitted that offensive holding should have been called on Romo’s fourth down completion to Witten. According to the NFL, Cowboys guard Ronald Leary held Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. In defense of the Cowboys, both offensive and defensive holding is missed or goes uncalled all the time in the NFL. I’m sure the Cowboys could counter with tape of the Lions holding their players. Still, I can’t think of too many times the NFL has gone out of its way to point out a missed call by one of its referee crews. The message: this was an obvious hold, and it should have been called.

#3.) Ever since Emmitt Smith became famous in the 1990s for taking his helmet off for every touchdown celebration, the NFL has cracked down on players being on the field with their helmets off during games. Add that Dez Bryant wasn’t even involved in the play, marching onto the field to argue with the refs, and this becomes a clear-cut penalty. Clearly, no question about it, not-a-doubt-in-my-mind, the Cowboys should have been flagged for Bryant’s actions. The Lions should have been given a first down and advanced 15 yards. There’s just no reason not to call that, and that’s why I haven’t read a single counterargument. Anywhere. As if to add insult to injury, the NFL is reportedly considering fining Bryant for unsportsmanlike conduct. Please.

Bottom line, it’s important to remember that these three plays by themselves didn’t prevent the Lions from winning; they missed on plenty of other opportunities. But cumulatively, these three plays made it much harder for them to win. There’s just no way around it. The Cowboys were given a huge boost, and they took advantage.

NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Predictions

Ravens-Patriots, 24-27: Don’t tempt me here. I know everyone’s talking about Brady’s record versus the Ravens, which is 1-2, but my eyes tell me the Patriots are better than they have been in years. Add home field advantage to that, and I’m leaning Pats. That said, if Gronkowski goes down, all bets are off. All of ’em.

Panthers-Seahawks, 13-24: When no one believes in the underdog, the media pretends to. Enter, your 2014 Carolina Panthers! Seriously though, if the Seahawks lose on Saturday, I would call it the biggest upset in the playoffs since the Falcons beat the 15-1 Vikings in the 1998 NFC Championship Game. It really would be that shocking.

Cowboys-Packers, 21-17: I’ve liked the Packers all year, and I recognize they’re a tougher team than people think. But nothing about this matchup looks good for them on paper. The Packers defense doesn’t do well against running offenses (see 49ers, San Francisco). The weather is going to be cold, which would normally favor the Packers, except their best player has an injury that’s going to get worse in the cold. Aaron Rodgers, the probable 2014 NFL MVP, has a calf-tear.  That means he won’t be able to be mobile, as he usually is, and leave the pocket. Think that’s not a big deal? Only quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick ran for more first downs in 2014 – it’s a big deal. And then there’s the incredible streak of luck the Cowboys are on at the moment, which is what you have to call it if you refuse to believe that the Lions-Cowboys game is fixed. I refuse to believe it, and so I’m thinking that streak extends through this Sunday.

Colts-Broncos, 24-32: For the Broncos to win this game, their run game, defense and special teams will have to show up. Manning, whatever the reason is, isn’t 100 percent. He just isn’t. In Manning’s lone Super Bowl winning season in 2006, his defense came alive in the playoffs. If Manning is going to make a run again this year, he’ll need that to happen again.

Bonus prediction – Oregon-Ohio State, 21-34: Just my gut.