The word "debatable'' certainly seems appropriate. And that's the one NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino used Monday to describe the pass-interference flag that officials picked up in the fourth quarter of Sunday's NFC wild-card game.
The penalty would have given the Lions a first down with 8:25 to play and probably would have helped them extend a 20-17 lead. Not only that, but Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant should have drawn a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after running onto the field without his helmet to argue against a pass-interference call. Instead, the Lions punted, and Dallas drove for the winning touchdown.
"I think it's debatable,'' Blandino said on NFL Network after using the same word earlier in the day on NBC Sports Radio. "There was a left hand on [tight end Brandon Pettigrew's] shoulder, but does that significantly hinder the receiver's ability to make the catch? Looking at all the angles, we're not convinced it is or it isn't. I think had the flag not been thrown, I think we still would have debated it.''
Blandino did say he would have preferred to see the officials enforce the penalty once it was called rather than expunge it. He also said they missed a holding call against linebacker Anthony Hitchens on the play.
None of which helps the Lions now. While much of football-watching America spent Monday analyzing the play, its ramifications and conspiracy theories that surround it, the Lions were cleaning out their lockers after an eighth straight playoff loss.
Coach Jim Caldwell said that before the Lions left Dallas Sunday night, he heard from an NFL official who gave an explanation of the call, or non-call.He didn't share the details of that conversation but noted that the sting of losing in such a manner was difficult to take.
"The fact of the matter is it's a controversial call,'' Caldwell said. "I think that, without question, that it was one that was probably not officiated correctly, in my estimation.''
It's important to note that Blandino did not apologize for the nullification of pass interference. Not that it would have been accepted in Detroit.
"It would mean nothing,'' Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead said, "absolutely nothing. Because at this point, we're out of the tournament and we can't do anything about it. So I wouldn't want to hear any apologies at this point, because it wouldn't mean anything to me.''