A controversial ruling by the referees in the fourth quarter of Sunday's playoff game between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys went a long way toward deciding the game.
Update from Monday, Jan. 5
NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino appeared on PFT Live on Monday and gave his input on Sunday's controversial reversal.
Blandino, per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith, believed Anthony Hitchens should have been called for defensive holding on Brandon Pettigrew, resulting in a Detroit first down. As for defensive pass interference, he said it was a "close call that could have went either way."
Here's what Blandino had to say, per Pro Football Talk:
"I felt that was minimal contact," Blandino said of Pettigrew's contact with Hitchens’s facemask.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant ran onto the field to argue the pass interference call, and Blandino said Bryant could have been flagged for that. Blandino said running on the field to argue with an official is "not an automatic penalty," but he added that "I certainly would have supported a call for unsportsmanlike conduct."
Blandino also said communication by the referees could have been better.
--End of Update--
Detroit led 20-17 midway through the fourth quarter and faced a 3rd-and-1 at the Dallas 46-yard line. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a pass intended for Brandon Pettigrew, but the ball fell incomplete.
At first, the referees threw a flag and called defensive pass interference on Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens, giving the Lions a first down and moving them into field-goal range.
The Cowboys didn't like the call. Dallas receiver Dez Bryant even came out onto the field to protest it.
It looked like the right call, but apparently, the refs weren't totally sold. A few seconds after announcing the penalty, the refs picked the flag up. That meant Detroit faced a 4th-and-1 at the Dallas 46-yard line.
Fox rules analyst Mike Pereira weighed in on the final ruling:
Former NFL referee Jim Daopoulos believed that the officials should have flagged Bryant for coming onto the field without his helmet.
The Lions weren't satisfied with how the officials handled the situation:
After failing to draw the Cowboys offside, the Lions took the delay of game and decided to punt. However, Sam Martin's punt went only 10 yards, giving Dallas great field position.
The Cowboys went on to score the game-winning touchdown—with the help of some flags—on the ensuing drive. Thanks to this controversial no-call, Dallas pulled out the 24-20 victory.