Referee Brad Allen's officiating crew might be off the hook for the illegal touching penalty on the Lions, at least in the eyes of the league and Cowboys fans, because of the Lions' intent to deceive the Cowboys. The penalty on left tackle Taylor Decker, who reported eligible but had extra lineman Dan Skipper confuse Allen, erased a two-point conversion that would have given the Lions the lead with 23 seconds left.
The call that is not debatable came two minutes earlier.
Officials blew it.
Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson intercepted Jared Goff with 2:05 remaining, and on first-and-10 from the Detroit 29, Tony Pollard ran for 7 yards. Officials, however, flagged tight end Peyton Hendershot for tripping.
The 15-yard penalty backed up the Cowboys to the Detroit 44.
Replay, though, clearly showed it was Lions edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson who tried to trip Hendershot. The penalty should have been on the Lions.
"I think the tape, clearly, you probably saw it when they showed it on the replay," Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said Monday, via Schuyler Dixon of the Associated Press. "The penalty clearly, in our view, really clearly flipped the situation. You’re first-and-10 on the -yard line there when we took the turnover. We’re second-and- with a running clock, so that takes out their second timeout. Now you’re in the position, because you clearly want to be inside the 30. I clearly understand how good Brandon [Aubrey] is kicking the ball, but there’s also field position concerns on both sides of that kick."
The Cowboys may have been able to run out the clock considering they would have had a first down at the Detroit 7. They certainly wouldn't have thrown the ball three consecutive plays, trying to get back in chip-shot field goal range.
Prescott completed two passes but threw incomplete on second-and-14 at the Detroit 33 on a long attempt to Brandin Cooks.
McCarthy has been criticized for his time management, which gave the Lions an extra 40 seconds, but Prescott took responsibility for the decision after the game.
"That's on me, honestly," Prescott said. "That wasn't the smartest or best play by me."
But if officials had gotten the tripping penalty correct, the Cowboys probably wouldn't have thrown at all, and the Lions likely wouldn't have gotten the ball back. Or they would have gotten it back with little time left and likely never would have gotten to a two-point conversion.
"The second-down play is just the real disappointment," McCarthy said, continuing his explanation about how the tripping penalty put the Cowboys in a hole. "Whether it’s the communication from my end, we just weren’t clean. We got what we were expecting defensively and were trying to hit the individual cuts to Brandin and CeeDee [Lamb] on the one-on-ones, because that clearly would put us in a third-and-short. I was trying to get to third-and-five or less to give us a chance to convert and end the game. That was the thinking there, clearly understanding the time clock and so forth. We had three downs. We were going to keep clock running on two of the three. The second-down call was the one that would have given a chance to put the game away."