The biggest play of the Dallas Cowboys’ dramatic 20-19 win over the Detroit Lions on Saturday was one that didn’t count.
As has been well publicized by now, Lions offensive lineman Taylor Decker’s reception on what would’ve been the go-ahead two-point conversion in the final seconds of Saturday’s showdown was negated because lead official Brad Allen said Decker didn’t report as an eligible receiver, getting penalized for illegal touching.
The Lions got a pair of retries on the two-point conversion because the Cowboys committed an offside penalty on the ensuing attempt, but they were unable to convert.
Following the game, Allen and Lions players shared different stories about what happened before the negated two-point conversion. Allen said in the pool report that backup offensive lineman Dan Skipper reported to him as eligible, not Decker. But the Lions said that Decker had reported to Allen as an eligible receiver, not Skipper.
The overhead camera gave credence to the Lions’ claim. Prior to the two-point conversion, Decker was seen having a conversation with Allen with Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell standing right next to the two before Skipper joined as the brief conversation ended.
Adding to the trick play, Skipper had reported as an eligible receiver throughout the night, with Campbell saying he gave the officiating crew a heads-up prior to the game that they could try something like they did on a two-point conversion.
FOX Sports NFL Rules Analyst Dean Blandino believes the Lions might have had too much trickery on the play, which could have caused confusion among the officiating crew over which player really was eligible.
“You’ve got a gadget play. This is a special play. They’ve been practicing it,” Blandino said on the “NFL on FOX” podcast.” “The whole thing is contingent on Decker reporting. So, it’s hard for me to sit here and say, ‘He’s going to forget.’ What I think the Lions did was they kind of created this illusion — you had not just Decker and Skipper, but Penei Sewell over with Brad Allen to create this kind of illusion on who’s really eligible. Decker said he reported.
“Brad Allen, either there was a miscommunication or he sees Skipper coming onto the field and assumes that Skipper’s reporting, announces 70 (Skipper’s number), tells the defense that it’s 70 and it’s 68 (Decker’s number) at the end of the line. He can’t be on the end of the line unless he reports. He can’t go downfield, he can’t catch a pass unless he reports. All of this led to what happened and ultimately went against the Lions.”
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Based on the postgame comments on what happened, Blandino placed blame on both sides for the messy situation that occurred at the end of Saturday’s game as he discussed how a similar situation could be avoided again.
“There’s responsibility on the player that I make sure that ‘I tell the referee that I’m eligible and get that acknowledgment.’ And then [there’s responsibility] on the official as well,” Blandino said. “Like you said, 70 had reported previously. I can’t just assume because he’s coming in the game that he’s also going to report because he might be just coming into the game and lining up at an ineligible position. I think it’s going slow. It’s a two-point try, the clock’s not running. Let’s get all the information. Let’s make sure there isn’t a communication and we hopefully could avoid issues like this.”
The situation on the two-point conversion that could’ve won the Lions the game wasn’t the only controversial call Allen’s crew made on Saturday. On the previous drive, Cowboys tight end Peyton Hendershot was called for tripping, though it appeared Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson committed the infraction. The penalty negated a seven-yard run on a first-and-10 play just north of the two-minute warning, giving the Cowboys a first-and-25 instead.
This isn’t the first time Allen’s crew has been in the midst of controversy in recent weeks. There were a few controversial calls and non-calls in the final minutes of the Packers’ win over the Chiefs in Week 13 that led to scrutiny for Allen and his crew.
Blandino explained what the ramifications Allen and his crew could possibly face if the NFL deems he messed up at the end of Saturday’s game.
“They evaluate every game, all of the calls that are made and the calls that should’ve been made,” Blandino said. “Those evaluations will decide playoff assignments. Ultimately, if you don’t grade out well, you could be released. When you do have something high profile, especially for the referee, and Brad Allen’s crew, they were involved in the Chiefs-Packers game a couple weeks ago, some high-profile, controversial calls in that game.
“So, you might take a referee out of the spotlight and say, ‘OK, in the postseason we’re not going to put this official [in a game].’ But that’s up to the league to decide that. Ultimately, it’s the evaluations that are going to decide who goes into the playoffs.”
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