The Detroit Lions’ playoff chances were on life support. The Lions, needing at least two more points to even up with the Cincinnati Bengals with under four minutes left in the game, faced an impossible third-and-23 deep in their own zone.
Matthew Stafford scrambled to his right to buy a little more time then heaved the ball to Golden Tate 50-some yards down the field. Tate, boxing out of his defender, had the ball come straight into his arms, but as Bengals defenders swarmed him, the ball disappeared from view and eventually reappeared on the ground for an incomplete pass.
Bengals swarm Golden Tate as he tries to haul in deep ball on a crucial 3rd and long throw!!! pic.twitter.com/fxBzcigtxs— TheRenderNFL (@TheRenderNFL) December 24, 2017
However, upon review, it looks like Tate had the possession of the ball for at least a moment while already down on the ground:
Thom Brennaman, the play-by-play announcer from FOX, was pretty adamant that Tate was down with possession of the ball. Dean Blandino, the former vice president of officiating, was less sure. “To me, it came out pretty quickly and I think that’s a good call on the field of an incomplete pass,” Blandino said on the broadcast.
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell agreed and he decided not to challenge the play. “From what our guys saw on the replay, and those kind of things, he had it, he went down, didn’t complete the catch, it bounced out,” Caldwell said in his postgame press conference.
Had the catch counted, the Lions would have had been just a 10-or-so yards away from Matt Prater’s field goal range with a fresh set of downs. Had the Lions lost the challenge, they would have lost a timeout, leaving them with just two left and 3:42 remaining on the clock.
That would have been plenty of time for the Lions to get the ball back, if the defense were to get a quick stop (they didn’t).
In other words, the cost of a wrong challenge was minimal, while the benefit of an overturn was enormous. Even if the guy’s in Caldwell’s ear said it was incomplete, it was close enough to give it a try. That’s a coaching mistake, even if they wouldn’t have won the challenge.
Obviously, the failure to challenge wasn’t the reason the Lions lost the game—hell, there’s a pretty good chance they lose the challenge anyways. Had Detroit played a cleaner game in the first 55 minutes of the game, they never would have had to deal with such a conundrum.
But as a head coach already on the hot seat, it’s hard to overlook this failure by Caldwell. Simply put, he didn’t give his team the best chance to win.
Should Jim Caldwell have challenged the incomplete pass to Golden Tate?
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