The Lions lost to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night thanks in large part to a late fumble by Calvin Johnson. Kam Chancellor knocked the ball free and let it bounce into the endzone, but in part on that play T.J. Wright got in on the action and swatted the ball out the back of the endzone to make sure the touchback was secure.
This is where it gets murky, because according to Dean Blandino, Vice-President of Officiating for the NFL, that should have been a penalty. What's more, the batted ball was in plain sight of the referees.
On more time for those of you catching up. This is an illegal "bat" by Wright in The End Zone. Should be DET ball https://t.co/a8WHyPuOt3— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) October 6, 2015
As Blandino explained, the NFL rule book outlines the illegality of the batted ball: "A player may not bat or punch (a) a loose ball (in field of play) toward opponent's goal line; (b) a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in the end zone..."
If the batted ball had been called on T.J. Wright, Detroit would have gotten the ball six-inches from the goal and a fresh set of downs, where victory would have been greatly guaranteed if one were to run the numbers. Greg Wilson, the line judge involved, said it did not appear intentional, although the video seems to contradict his version of events. Dean Blandino believes it should have been called, as did another former referee Gerry Austin.
The play, by the way, was not reviewable.
In large part, this was all it could have been: a technicality. There was no real way for the Lions to recover the ball from its current position if Wright had not batted the football. The fumble sealed the deal on the Detroit comeback, and it would have been even more disastrous for the NFL to give the game to the Lions on such a technicality.
There was no real way to make this call right. The decision by the line judge to declare the bat unintentional smacks of an attempt to downplay what could have been an equally damning decision to call the batted ball. It's one thing to miss a call on a rule that no one watching (outside of Blandino, perhaps) knew existed; it's a far greater egg being plastered on the face of the NFL if they did call the batted ball and helped determine a game with such a forgotten segment of the rule book. Either way, the media is talking about the rule, called or not called, on Tuesday morning.
Make no mistake, it should have been called if nothing more than the fact that there's no real reason to have the rule if there's not going to be a proper reason to enforce it when the scenario happens. It's hard, however, to be too torn up on it given the situation surrounding the play. If any Lion, any, had been in the general vicinity of the ball as it bounced its way into oblivion there should have been far more furor against the referees for missing the call. Lacking that scenario the missed call was nothing more than insult to injury for Lions fans. One can be upset certainly, but if Wright hadn't swatted at the ball it would have made no difference to the gut-wrenching end of the game; no one in Honolulu blue was coming to save the day.
For their part, the Lions played the part of downplaying the missed call well. It certainly didn't help Matthew Stafford's mood, and coach Jim Caldwell was as always resolute against any emotional response to the missed call. To a T, the Seahawks all claimed that they didn't see what happened. Men who spend their entire lives playing the game do not all as a unit turn away from a football on the ground and ignore what happens to it. No one's snitching in this reality. The only Seahawk who did happen to see what happened was K.J. Wright himself, who admitted to batting it out of bounds intentionally.
Unfortunately the term "Calvin Johnson rule" is already taken, so they'll have to come up with something else for this one.