Conspiracy theorists had their smoking gun in the fourth quarter of the Dallas Cowboys-Detroit Lions playoff game on Sunday.
You very rarely see an officiating crew pick up a flag as late as the Cowboys-Lions crew did on the most controversial play of wild-card weekend. On third down, Matthew Stafford threw to Brandon Pettigrew, who was covered by Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens. Hitchens never turned around, face-guarding Pettigrew, and that combined with some contact drew a flag for pass interference.
But the Lions went from thinking they had a crucial first down to facing a fourth and 1. That’s because the officials reversed the call, saying Hitchens made a clean play. There was no pass interference. The Lions unsuccessfully tried to draw the Cowboys offsides on fourth an 1, took a delay of game penalty, shanked a punt, and the Cowboys marched down for a go-ahead 8-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams with 2:32 remaining. The non-call changed the entire game. The Cowboys (who, conspiracy theorists will note, are an enormous draw for the NFL) held on to win 24-20. Most NFL fans hate the Cowboys, and did they ever hate that the pass interference wasn’t called.
Mike Pereira, the well-respected former vice president of officiating in the NFL, was in the booth for Fox’s broadcast and said he thought it was pass interference and wrong of the officials to reverse the call. That seemed to be the consensus opinion of most fans watching as well. No matter what the call should have been, it went against the Lions and will be a topic of conversation for a long time.