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Analysis: officials, coaches had crucial Week 17 calls that could have huge playoff ramifications

The NFL is approaching the five-year anniversary of a non-call on a blatant pass interference in the NFC championship game that helped the Rams advance to the Super Bowl over the Saints.

It's a black eye the league would like to forget, a difficult task in a season that's been shaped to a significant degree by the men in stripes, particularly the debacle in Dallas on Saturday night that kicked off Week 17 and has ramifications that could ripple through the road to Super Bowl 58.

Crucial choices by coaches also proved pivotal over the weekend.

LIONS LAMENT

In Dallas, Lions coach Dan Campbell went for 2 three times instead of kicking the extra point to all but certainly force overtime. That aggression paid off briefly but a late flag changed everything and the Lions left Dallas feeling they would have won the game had it been officiated correctly.

Detroit’s 20-19 loss allowed the Cowboys to stretch their home winning streak to 15 games and leapfrog Detroit into the second seeding in the NFC playoff race. That means that while the Lions will host the first playoff game at Ford Field, which opened in 2002, they’ll likely be hitting the road after that.

Referee Brad Allen’s officiating crew missed a call on the previous drive by Dallas that may have prevented the wacky ending altogether. See, a tripping penalty on Cowboys tight end Peyton Hendershot turned a second-and-3 into a first-and-25 at the Detroit 44. The tripping penalty should’ve been called against Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson instead of Hendershot.

After initially ruling that the Lions had taken a 21-20 lead with 23 seconds left on Jared Goff’s 2-point conversion toss to left tackle Taylor Decker, the officials threw the flag and Allen announced, “There was illegal touching by No. 68. Did not report as eligible. Five-yard penalty.”

The Lions insisted it was a case of mistaken identity, that Decker (No. 68) did indeed report as eligible and that tackle Don Skipper (No. 70), never reported.

There’s video of Decker approaching the referee as tackle Skipper runs onto the field. Allen announces Skipper, who routinely enters the game as a sixth lineman, as an eligible receiver on the mic before the play. He never mentions Decker.

“I did not say a word to the ref,” Skipper said in the locker room afterward.

When the officials ruled Decker hadn’t reported as eligible and erased his go-ahead 2-point conversion catch, Campbell could be seen hollering, “I told you!” at Allen.

Coaches routinely let the officiating crew in on any complex, tricky or unusual plays before the game so that no one is caught off guard in the heat of the moment, and Decker said he understood Campbell talked to the officials about that very play before kickoff.

Campbell confirmed as much at his emotional postgame news conference, saying, “I explained everything pregame, to a T. OK? I did that.”

Allen said after the game to a pool reporter that “No. 70, who had reported during the game a couple of times, reported to me as eligible. Then, he lined up at the tackle position. So, actually, he didn’t have to report at all. No. 68, who ended up going downfield and touching the pass, did not report. Therefore, he is ineligible touching a pass that goes beyond the line, which makes it a foul. So, the issue is No. 70 did report, No. 68 did not.”

Only, the Lions insisted Allen got it backwards.

Decker said he did exactly as he’d been coached and reported to the referee as eligible.

“What I do know — and I don’t know if I’ll get fined for this — but I do know that Decker reported, and I do know that Dan Skipper did not. And I do know that they said that Dan Skipper did,” Goff said. “So, it’s unfortunate.”

It also could prove hugely consequential when the playoff picture finally shakes out next weekend —- and when officiating crews are assigned for the postseason.

LET RUSS STEW

Denver will miss the playoffs for the eighth straight year but the Broncos' quarterback carousel continues its perpetual churn with Sean Payton benching nine-time Pro Bowl QB Russell Wilson in favor of journeyman Jarrett Stidham, who didn't look like a significant upgrade in Denver's 16-9 win over the Chargers. Still, the move forecasts a whopping $85 million in dead cap charges for the Broncos over the next two seasons with a costly divorce from Wilson seemingly inevitable.

BAD CONNECTION

The Rams are returning to the playoffs after a year's absence thanks to a 26—25 win over the Giants highlighted by Brian Daboll's decision to go for 2 backfiring when Tyrod Taylor missed a wide-open Saquon Barkley on a rollout to the right in the closing minutes at the Meadowlands.

HOMECOMING KING

Former Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon returned to Philly and made some risky calls that paid off Sunday with the Cardinals stunning the Eagles 35-31.

Philadelphia was sitting pretty at 10-1 a month ago but four December losses mean the Eagles will likely have to hit the road for the postseason and hope to follow in the path of the 2012 Ravens, who also lost four games in December only to get hot in January and win it all.

Even the calls that appeared to backfire ended up working out for Gannon, who was much maligned in Philadelphia for a defense that collapsed in the second half of last season’s Super Bowl loss to Kansas City,

Tied at 28, Gannon called for an onside kick. Although the Eagles recovered it, they only got a field goal and James Conner’s touchdown with 22 seconds left on the next drive was the winner as Kyler Murray led Arizona to TDs on all four of its second-half possessions.

“I wanted to make sure at all costs Kyler had the ball in his hand,” Gannon said.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL