The fateful two-point play in Lions-Cowboys that was wiped out due to a penalty over eligibility continues to be one of the biggest stories in the NFL. Plenty of Lions fans believe the officials screwed up the situation, either accidentally or deliberately.
But there continues to be one very important question that hasn't been answered. Did coach Dan Campbell review before the game with members of the officiating crew the play itself, or did he review with them the manner in which the Lions hoped to confuse the Cowboys, by having three different linemen approach referee Brad Allen before the players went to the line of scrimmage.
During Campbell's Monday press conference, it was clear he had no interest in revisiting the situation. As a result, no one was able to drill down to the specific question of whether the pregame explanation included a discussion of the effort to make the Cowboys think someone other than tackle Taylor Decker was eligible to catch the pass that, if deemed legal, would have won the game.
It is clear, however, that the Lions wanted to fool the Cowboys.
"It's about eligibility," Campbell told reporters. "That's what it's about. And it has nothing to do with the ref. The ref knows. He knows. Because 68 reported. It's for the defense, so that they see three different people. And you're just hoping they happen to not hear that it's 70 [who isn't eligible]. That's all."
That's all, but that's everything. By having both Decker and tackle Penei Sewell approach referee Brad Allen from one direction while the Lions usual jumbo tight end, Dan Skipper, ran from the sideline and approached Allen as if Skipper were reporting as eligible, the Lions hoped the Cowboys would lose track of which player was actually eligible.
The problem is that, in the effort to fool the Cowboys, the Lions also fooled Allen.
And while Campbell wasn't asked the specific question as to whether the pregame communication included an explanation that they intended to play a shell game with the Cowboys, Campbell's comments regarding his explanation to the officials was focused only on the play itself.
"I had it on a piece of paper," Campbell said of the pregame meeting, which (as PFT reported) Allen did not personally attend. "Our play. What our players have. All I can do is talk through it. That's all I can do."
But he could have done more. He could have said to the officials, "Now, look, when we run this play, we want to make the Cowboys think 70 is eligible, not 68. So we're gonna have three guys approach the referee, and we're hoping the defense doesn't realize which guy is actually eligible. It's gonna look like it's 70, but it's actually 68."
As explained earlier today, it's hard to imagine a head coach essentially recruiting the officials to go along with that kind of ruse. The Lions assumed the risk that having three players approach Allen — including the usual jumbo tight end who ran not to the huddle or to the line but directly toward Allen — would confuse both the Cowboys and the referee.
That's exactly what happened. It was, as far as the league is concerned, deception and gamesmanship. And the Lions ultimately did too good of a job confusing the Cowboys, because Skipper's part of the ploy made Allen think the Lions' usual jumbo tight end was reporting as eligible. That's why Skipper ran from the sideline directly to Allen.
Campbell said he'd do nothing differently, if he were to do it again.
"I don't have a timeout," Campbell said. "I mean, there's nothing I can do, you know? And it's loud. You can't hear anything. Not where we were at, you know? I think right when the play started, you realize that they ID'd 70 [as eligible]. So, it is what it is."
What it was, plain and simple, was an effort to conceal that Decker was eligible. It was an effort to make the Cowboys think Skipper was eligible.
And it worked. Too well.