Following the Detroit Lions’ 23-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers, head official Clete Blakeman spoke to the media. The game, of course, was marred a few controversial calls, including two odd illegal hands to the face penalties that both extended Packers fourth-quarter drives on what should have been fourth downs.
Blakeman addressed those penalties and also the personal foul penalty on Tracy Walker that cost the Lions 15 yards earlier in the game. Here’s the full interaction between Blakeman and the media:
Question: On the helmet-to-helmet contact with Tracy Walker, it appeared he was going for the ball. Does the defensive back have the right to go for the ball? Does that offset any incidental helmet-to-helmet contract?
Blakeman: “That’s a good question, but the reality is, it is strict liability for a defensive player. In this case, he may be going for the ball and not intending to hit the helmet, but when there’s helmet contact, it is a foul in that situations.”
Question: Even if he had come up with the interception, that doesn’t change the ruling in any way?
Blakeman: “Even if he did impact the helmet and then intercepted the ball, it would still have been a foul.”
Question: On the two hands-to-the-face penalties on Detroit defensive end Trey Flowers. I don’t know if you were the one who actually threw the flag there, but when discussing with the crew, what did you guys see on those calls?
Blakeman: “The umpire threw both of them. 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.”
Question: “You said head or neck area?”
Blakeman: “Head or neck area, yes.”
That’s it. That’s all you get.
There are a couple things inane about these responses. Regarding the personal foul to Walker, the official does not even address the “initiation” part of the rule. In order for it to be a foul, it has to be the defender who initiates contact. But if both players are going for the ball, who is to say who initiated what? While it’s true Walker ran into the Packers receiver, it’s tough to really determine who initiates the contact.
As for the illegal hands to the face, there’s no real justification. In fact, Blakeman exposed the officials for just how wrong they were. On the first flag on Trey Flowers, his hand does briefly slip up and touch the offensive lineman’s helmet. But it was extremely brief.
What “hands to the face” looks like— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) October 15, 2019
From a punt to a TD, all because of the refs. Just disgusting. pic.twitter.com/K2ho1fBFEy
It was not “prolonged” as Blakeman said, and it didn’t even happen on the second play in which he said he discussed with the umpire.
We’ll see if the NFL releases an official statement on any of these plays, but at this point it doesn’t really matter. The damage has been done.