The Detroit Lions fell victim again to one of the oddest officiating sequences I’ve ever seen.
In the third quarter, on a crucial third down play, Matthew Stafford connected with Darren Fells for a 14-yard touchdown to bring the Lions within a score of the Vikings. As the Lions lined up for the extra point, according to head coach Jim Caldwell, they got the go-ahead whistle to proceed, meaning the touchdown had been confirmed by officials.
But before the Lions were able to snap the ball for the PAT, the refs changed their mind and decided to take closer look at it. After review, the officials (correctly) determined that the ball had hit the ground and Fells did not control the ball through contact with the turf. It was incomplete.
The Lions settled for a field goal, taking four valuable points off the board.
Caldwell drew heavy criticism from fans after that play, scolding him for not getting the team to hurry up and snap the ball before the extra point was kicked.
That is completely unfair to Caldwell and let me explain why.
While teams frequently get away with bad calls by hustling to the line, that never happens on scoring plays. Why? Because in 2011, the NFL decided that they will automatically review all scoring plays, regardless of whether the call is challenged or not.
The way things work now is that teams are not allowed to kick the extra point until officials confirm a touchdown. In this case, the officials did confirm a touchdown. There was no reason to hustle to the line, because, from the Lions’ viewpoint, the call had already been confirmed. Case closed.
To expect Jim Caldwell to call for a hurried extra point is expecting way too much of any NFL coach. What the officials did on this play—confirming, then overturning a play—is literally unprecedented in the NFL. I have never seen that happen before. You can’t expect Caldwell to get the team to hustle to the line “just in case” something that’s never happened before happens. That is hindsight at its worst.
If you want to hammer Caldwell for other decisions in this game—like his choice to go for it on fourth-and-8 with three minutes still on the clock—that’s fair game. But this one is not on him.
And if we’re being honest, aren’t we always clamoring for better officiating? It may have been an unorthodox way of getting there, but the officials eventually got the play right. It shouldn’t matter whether Caldwell erred or not, because if the NFL was working correctly, there never would have been a controversy here. The play should have been reviewed immediately and the Lions never should have had the chance to pull a fast one.