By Mike Fisher | @fishsports
ARLINGTON (105.3 THE FAN) — ‘Redemption’? Or ‘ridiculous’?
The Cowboys view Sunday’s playoff outcome in the former way. The Lions in the latter.
They are both correct.
Dallas recorded a zany 24-20 first-round playoff victory at AT&T Stadium over a Lions team that thinks it got hosed by a call from referee Pete Morelli and his crew. The Lions were holding onto a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, facing a third-and-one from the Cowboys’ 46-yard line, when QB Matthew Stafford lobbed to tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
Pettigrew’s hand was in the facemark of defender Anthony Hitchens. Hitchens had his arms up but his back to the ball. Was there much contact? Was there face-guarding? Was there interference … on one player? On the other?
A flag was thrown. Morelli announced pass interference. Then he huddled with his crew. Then the picked up the flag, keeping the door open for Dallas’ comeback.
“The back judge threw his flag,” Morelli later explained via pool report. “We got other information from another official from a different angle that thought the contact was minimal and didn’t warrant pass interference.”
Morelli’s greatest error was in goofing up the chronology of his actions, for indeed, there is no such thing as “face-guarding’’ in the NFL – and that’s the only thing Hitchens was clearly guilty of.
Besides … didn’t Detroit then have a fourth-and-1 that they decided not to go for? And didn’t the Lions then unleash a 10-yard shanked punt? And wasn’t all of that countered by Dallas’ gutsy decision to go for it on fourth-and-6 from midfield, resulting in a 21-yard Jason Witten reception that set up Tony Romo’s game-winning TD pass to Terrance Williams with 2:39 remaining?
“We made a lot of plays along the way here and there that hurt us,” Stafford said. “If we just execute a little better in all phases, we come away with a win.”
Instead it was the Cowboys — at 13-4 and heading to Green Bay next Sunday with twice as many wins in their pocket as most of us expected — who executed when it counted late. Not early; Dallas was down 14-0 very quickly in this game … but late.
So long-time Cowboys personalities like Romo, Witten, coach Jason Garrett and owner Jerry Jones were allowed a redemptive celebration of what had been overcome. So Brandon Carr — who a year ago was legendarily toasted by Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson but here make Megatron a non-factor — could pretend he didn’t like the word “redemption.’’ So even a rookie like defensive end Demarcus Lawrence could get in on the same storyline, as he recovered a fumble in the final minutes but fumbled it right back … but moments later recorded a sack, strip and fumble recovery all on one play to end the game.
“It was a learning experience for me,’’ Lawrence said, and a redemptive one, too.
But for the Lions, who haven’t won a road playoff game since 1957, who are under Stafford 0-18 in road games against winning teams, who are now 3-10 all-time when Morelli refs their game?
It was not a learning experience. It was a ridiculous experience.
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