The Detroit Lions defeated the Atlanta Falcons on the last play of the game: an 11-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to T.J. Hockenson. It was an extremely clutch play from Stafford, and an improbable win for the Lions.
But it never should have played out exactly like that. And, no, I’m not talking about Todd Gurley making the mistake of crossing the end zone, giving the Lions one more chance on offense.
I’m talking about the NFL officials making an obvious mistake on the play just before Detroit’s game-winning score that made the Lions’ job just slightly more difficult.
Let’s rewind to earlier in the game-winning drive.
It’s second-and-10 after a Stafford spike. The Lions have the ball on the Falcons 40-yard line with 19 seconds left. Detroit needs a big chunk of yards and they get it with a big toss down the middle to Kenny Golladay.
Then, the chaos begins. The Lions scramble to get down to the line of scrimmage in time to spike the ball. They do with three second remaining and the ball at the Falcons 8-yard line.
Only one problem (well, two if you include the Falcons player still offsides): the officials wanted to review the play. It wasn’t clear if Golladay caught the ball, so the refs buzzed up a review before the Lions ran the spike. The spike never happens (officially) and the game goes to a booth review.
Okay, fine. Makes sense. You want to make sure Golladay caught it, and even after watching replays, I’m not entirely sure that he did.
After conferring, officials decide they are going to let the play stand as called. There is no 10-second runoff, because the review did not result in an overturn of the call on the field. So, no harm. No foul. Lions get the ball back on the 8-yard line with three seconds left.
Wait, that’s not the 8-yard line. What the hell is going on?
Let’s watch that play again. Maybe he was stopped on the 11?
Without any explanation from anyone, the line of scrimmage was moved back 3 yards. There was no penalty that pushed it back 3 yards, and every single play-by-play log will simply state that Golladay caught this ball on the 11-yard line, even though that is clearly not true.
And, remember, this moving of the line of scrimmage came AFTER THEY REVIEWED THE PLAY. They looked at this play several times, and somehow decided the ball should be placed at the 11.
Obviously, this didn’t end up impacting the final outcome of the game, but it is a huge blunder that could have. Imagine Hockenson catches that ball 1-yard short of the goal line, and the outrage that understandably would’ve followed. This was an inexcusable mistake from the officials, and they’re lucky it didn’t cost the Lions the game.