Walt Coleman's officiating crew might have made the biggest refereeing mistake since the "Fail Mary" in Seattle when they gave Justin Forsett an 81-yard touchdown during the second half of a nationally televised Thanksgiving Day matchup between the Lions and Houston Texans on Thursday.
And despite head coach Jim Schwartz not knowing the rules on challenging scoring plays, the fact that the rule even exists is enough for both Coleman and the NFL to issue an official apology to the Lions.
First, the set up.
Down 24-14 midway through the third quarter, the Texans gave Forsett a somewhat rare carry. While he appeared to be down after a short gain, Forsett sprung up and raced 81 yards for a touchdown that Coleman's crew allowed.
Irate on the sidelines, Schwartz tossed the red challenge flag onto the field. Big mistake.
Because all scoring plays are automatically reviewed in the NFL this season, challenging such a play is now against the rules. Coleman tacked on a 15-yard penalty and negated the looming review because of Schwartz's decision.
Fans at Ford Field booed, but Coleman made the right call by the books to penalize Schwartz and disallow the replay.
The NFL released a short memo on the rule and how Thursday's play factored in.
However, the fact remains that he clearly missed the original call. Replays showed Forsett's elbow and knee touching the ground before he got back on his feet, and the play should have been ruled dead after a short run.
Had he made the correct call to begin with, there's no touchdown and no emotional decision from Schwartz on the sidelines. For at least the time being, the Lions would have maintained a 10-point advantage.
Who knows how that swing would have changed the final outcome, but the Lions will certainly feel that it played a factor.
The NFL is not without blame for this mess, either. During this coming offseason, the competition committee must take a look at changing the rule so such a game-changing play and decision cannot happen in the future.
Head coaches should still get penalized for challenging plays they can't, but disallowing the replay entirely is such a bone-headed and ill-advised rule that it really shouldn't take much discussion to get changed.
And when push comes to shove, the NFL can really only apologize for the obvious mistake and look to change the rule in the future. While not a perfect solution, it's all the Lions can really ask for after such a terrible decision was made against them Thursday.
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