On Monday, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell was asked if he would change anything about the team’s process in their go-ahead, two-point conversion attempt against the Dallas Cowboys that was nullified by a penalty. His answer was short, but powerful.
As a quick reminder, the Lions ran a trick play to take a 21-20 lead against the Cowboys with just 24 seconds left. However, refs ruled that Taylor Decker was an ineligible receiver, because he didn’t report with the official before the play. The problem is, it appears that Decker absolutely did report his eligibility, but the official was confused on the play and incorrectly announced that Dan Skipper was the eligible receiver on the play.
Because this has been a nationwide story since the primetime Saturday night game, the Lions have come under some criticism for their own processes that may have led to the confusion. Let’s go over them one-by-one, along with Campbell’s response to each.
The Lions bear responsibility for sending three offensive linemen to the referee, setting him up for failure
This is, essentially, the NFL’s argument. Decker, Skipper, and Penei Sewell all approached head official Brad Allen, and the argument goes that because Skipper had reported as eligible two times already this game, Allen assumed this was a the third time. Had the Lions simply only sent Decker to the official, there would be no confusion.
The problem with that line of thinking, however, is that the entire point of doing is that is to hide your intentions from the defense, which is commonplace during trick plays like that.
“If you’re running a play like that, and 70 (Skipper) is your jumbo tight end, and they know that because that’s what he does for you, and then you decide you’re going to make 68 (Decker) eligible and he walks over to the ref, and the ref stands over 68 before the play, and they hold the ball and they stand over him and point at him, do you think you’re going to be able to throw the ball to 68? No.
“So it’s about eligibility. That’s what it’s about. It has nothing to do with the ref. The ref knows. He knows, because 68 reported. It’s for the defense, so that they see three different people and you’re just hoping they happen to not hear (the ref).”
Dan Skipper rubbed his jersey to indicate he was an eligible receiver
There’s no direct video evidence of this, but some have speculated that Skipper tapped the numbers on his jersey as he was running towards Allen, which is a common gesture to indicate their eligibility. Here you can see Skipper’s arms appear to be up at chest level, but with only the camera angle to his back, we have no idea if he did it:
Here’s audio from @DallasCowboys radio broadcast on @1053thefan:— Bill Jones (@CBS11BillJones) December 31, 2023
Referee Brad Allen announces to the entire stadium & tells Dallas defense prior to the Lions 2-point try that #70 Dan Skipper reported as eligible, no mention of #68 Taylor Decker. pic.twitter.com/4fodu6puLf
Campbell said he was unaware if Skipper had made any sort of motion.
“Not that I know of. Did you see something?”
The Lions should have done something when the officials announced over the microphone that Skipper was eligible
There is audio proof that before the Lions ran the play, Allen went on mic and reported that Skipper—not Decker—was eligible. Some argue that now puts the onus on the Lions to correct them. One problem though: the Lions were out of timeouts, and Campbell said he didn’t even hear the announcement anyways.
“I don’t have a timeout. There’s nothing I can do. And it’s loud, you can’t hear anything, not from where we were at. I think right when the play started, you realized that they had ID’d 70 (Skipper). So, it is what it is.”
The Lions’ pre-game meeting with officials
There’s also the fact that the Lions also disclosed this play to officials prior to the game. There have been two developments on that front since the end of the game. First, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk noted that Allen was absent from that meeting. Tom Pelissero confirmed that report, but said that Campbell later approached Allen one-on-one to give the specifics of the play.
“Brad Allen’s not in the normal 90-minute meeting, there’s a couple members of the officiating staff that go to that, but I was told Dan Campbell specifically pulled aside Brad Allen personally before the game and said, ‘Here is the play,’” Pelissero said.
Campbell gave his brief explanation of the interaction.
“I had it on a piece of paper. Our play, what our players have,” Campbell said. “All I can do is talk through it. That’s all I can do.”
So it seems like the Lions were pretty damn thorough with their process, which explains why Campbell has no regrets about how they handled it.