The referee assigned to this all-important game is Clete Blakeman.
While the NFL uses a mixed crew of all-star officials during the playoffs, Blakeman-led crews have called penalties under the league average this season. For the 2023 regular season, they averaged 10.94 penalties per game compared the the NFL average of 11.36.
“Clete Blakeman is the referee, who is in his 16th season and 14th as referee,” Football Zebra’s wrote in their preview of the Conference Championship referee assignments. “This is Blakeman’s 14th postseason assignment, including 4 Wild Card Playoffs, 5 Divisional Playoffs, 4 Conference Championships, and Super Bowl 50. His Super Bowl assignment was as a referee.
While Blakeman has a tremendous amount of experience as a referee, his career as an official has also been drenched in controversial calls. A simple Google search for “Clete Blakeman controversy” will return a litany of articles dedicated to the subject, some of them dating back to his first years in the NFL, others from just six weeks ago.
You’ll also find plenty of those articles with Blakeman’s name attached to the Lions. While some Lions fans may not be familiar with Blakeman by name, the phrase “illegal hands to the face” is more than likely going to draw a reaction.
Yes, back in 2019, it was Blakeman’s crew that called two (!) illegal hands to the face calls against the Lions during a “Monday Night Football” game against the Green Bay Packers. Both calls led to the Packers extending drives that resulted in 10 points and a 23-22 loss for Detroit. The NFL would go on to admit that mistakes were made by the officials.
Since this game, Blakeman has been assigned to five Lions games. Detroit has been on the losing end of four of those contests, with the single win coming in this season, back in Week 8 when Detroit beat the Las Vegas Raiders 26-14 on MNF. However, it’s also worth pointing out that in each of those games, Blakeman’s crew called more penalties on the team that would go on to win.
Let’s hope for a clean game and that we won’t see much of Blakeman on Sunday.