by Jordy McElroy
The Detroit Lions had the Green Bay Packers on the ropes in a highly-competitive Monday Night Football contest featuring the two NFC North rivals. Yet, every time the Lions would deliver what looked to be the knockout blow, a yellow flag would come flying out of nowhere as a new lifeline for the Packers.
If it happened in the playoffs, it would have been New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams 2018 NFC championship levels of egregious.
Two phantom hands-to-the-face penalties called against Lions defensive end Trey Flowers kept drives alive that eventually turned into points in the fourth quarter. The first penalty came on a 3rd-and-10 situation when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked well behind the 50-yard line.
Rodgers then proceeded to hit receiver Allen Lazard with a 35-yard touchdown pass to bring his team within two points.
Then came the dagger penalty at the end of the game, where Flowers can clearly be seen with his hands to the shoulder area. But it was still enough to draw a second flag from an official for another hands-to-the-face penalty, setting up a game-winning field goal for Packers kicker Mason Crosby and making every football fan question the anatomy of the human body.
“The umpire threw both of them,” NFL official Clete Blakeman explained after the game. “The last one was really the only one I’ve discussed with him. Basically, it’s for illegal use of the hands, hands-to-the-face foul. To be a foul, we basically need some forceful contact that’s prolonged to the head and neck area of the defender. So, in his mind he had pinned him back, it was prolonged, and that’s what created the foul.”
Perhaps the league should change the penalty to hands-to-the-upper-body to more accurately reflect what the officials are seeing on the field. On second thought, the officials could simply admit they made two errant and costly calls against the Lions.
Blakeman’s explanation of the last penalty falls flat considering Flowers’ hand was actually pressed into the shoulder area of Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari. Are we reaching a point in today’s game when defensive linemen have to keep their hands in the abdominal area in the trenches to avoid being flagged?
I haven’t even mentioned the obvious pass interference penalty that wasn’t even called on Packers safety Will Redmond that ruined an opportunity for the Lions to put more points on the board.
Human error is to be expected in a game officiated by human beings, but there are some calls where an apology simply won’t suffice. The Lions had an opportunity to beat the Packers and improve to 3-2-1, which would have put them in the thick of things in arguably the toughest division in football. However, the loss brings their record down to 2-2-1 with an uphill battle to compete against three possible playoff contenders.
Granted, the Lions’ chances of competing were slim at the start of the season, but it has to be heartbreaking for fans watching them overachieve, only to have them lose the way they did against the Packers. The league could literally be another blown call in the playoffs away from making all penalties challenge-worthy.
All of the talk of “slowing the game down” is meaningless when seasons are on the line. As we learned in last season’s NFC Championship game, one blown call can have a profound impact on the outcome of an entire season. The Lions’ season isn’t necessarily ruined by Monday night’s loss, but if they somehow managed to fight their way back into contention, it’s a game that could ultimately come back to haunt them.
Meanwhile, the league should seriously consider if it needs more red flags to keep the yellow ones in check.