Egregious. Inexplicable. Confounding. All words that have been used to describe the officials' actions after a specific play in the fourth quarter of Sunday's Lions-Cowboys game in Dallas. You might have read about it here or here or here. Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchins appeared to make quite a bit of contact with Brandon Pettigrew while covering the Lions tight end on a crucial 3rd-and-1. Initially the play was ruled defensive pass interference, but the officiating crew picked up the flag to the surprise of everyone including the NFL's former Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira, who later tweeted that the play was "DPI and it was defensive holding as well." The fallout has been near outrage.
Tony Dungy, who spoke about the play on The Dan Patrick Show, agrees that the call was not handled properly. But according to Dungy, there was a non-call in the moments immediately following the play that was even more troubling than the officials' decision to pick up the pass interference flag. In reaction to the referees' initial intent to penalize the Cowboys for pass interference, wide receiver Dez Bryant ran halfway across the field protest the call ... with his helmet off.
"To me, that was worse than the pass interference call," said Dungy when asked about Bryant's illegal actions. "You can debate the pass interference call, but the helmet rule is plain."
NFL rules state that "[a]ny player who removes his helmet after a play while on the field" will earn a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his team. Bryant, who sprinted helmet-less from the sideline and nearly reached the hash marks before barking at an official, was in clear violation.
"For an official not to have the courage to call that - Dez Bryant is out on the field at the time, he's an offensive player, there's no reason he's out there other than to argue the call with no helmet on - every official should have thrown a flag at that point," said Dungy.
Had the call been made, the Lions would have had a 1st-and-10 on Dallas's 41-yard line. Had the call been made in conjunction with the defensive pass interference call that was retracted, they would have been at Dallas's 14. Instead the Lions took a delay of game penalty before punting and after a 10-yard shank, the Cowboys marched downfield to score the game-winning touchdown. The pair of botched calls, which made up the turning point of the game, is totally unexplainable according to Dungy.
"At the very least it's another 15-yard penalty, and there's no way you can justify not calling that."