Instead, it involved an official stooping down, reaching his hand out and picking up a flag.
That action was the turning point of a tight Detroit Lions-Dallas Cowboys NFC wild card matchup on Sunday. With the Lions leading by three and facing a crucial third down in the fourth quarter, there seemed to be a clear-cut pass interference call on Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens. He was turned completely away from the ball, and looked like he bumped Brandon Pettigrew right before the pass reached the Detroit tight end.
A flag was thrown, eliciting a chorus of boos from the Dallas crowd. But about a minute later, for reasons that the officiating crew didn’t explain at all, the flag was picked up and Detroit was forced to punt.
Dallas scored the game-winning touchdown on the ensuing drive, aided by several penalty flags on Detroit, including (you guessed it) a controversial pass interference call.
Hours later, an explanation finally came out, from referee Pete Morelli. He told a Detroit reporter that the back judge threw the flag, but the head linesman who was looking from a better view overturned the call, saying that Hitchens was “face-guarding,” which isn’t a penalty in the NFL.
“Face-guarding” is intentionally blocking the view of the receiver, which is legal as long as there’s no contact. The question still remains: was there contact?
Keep this in mind: The NFL doesn’t keep officiating crews together from the regular season into the playoffs, so the referees were working their first game of the season as a unit.
Bonus extra note: The head of NFL officiating was seen on the Dallas Cowboys party bus earlier in the week. Three guesses as to how much play that bit of news is going to get in Detroit this week.
Tangential celebratory note: The win made Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New Jersey governor Chris Christie share an ecstatic and fairly uncomfortable moment.