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Roger Goodell’s So-called Better-than-ever NFL Officiating Blew The End Of Cowboys-Lions, Then Doubled Down | TheSportsDay Roger Goodell’s So-called Better-than-ever NFL Officiating Blew The End Of Cowboys-Lions, Then Doubled Down | TheSportsDay

Roger Goodell’s so-called better-than-ever NFL officiating blew the end of Cowboys-Lions, then doubled down

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell reacts during the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys won 20-19. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Saturday night, an NFL official clearly made a huge mistake.

It happened on a massive stage, before a national television audience, in a game that was consequential for playoff seeding. When he was pressed for an explanation, he doubled down by describing a scenario that made no sense. This is what resonates about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s better than ever officiating, which has glitched and rebooted seemingly every few weeks this season.

So now we wake up Sunday morning — talking less about the history-making night of Cowboys wideout CeeDee Lamb, or the unbelievable final drive of Lions quarterback Jared Goff — and instead are left to dive into the mangled mess that unfolded with referee Brad Allen. By late Saturday night, there was the testimony of the Detroit Lions, who not-so-carefully pointed a finger at Allen blowing his job. There was a litany of video angles that appeared to back up their testimony. Then there was Allen effectively accusing the Lions of lying.

Without launching a full blown Warren Commission on it, here is a thumbnail of what happened, before we get to why it’s so problematic for the NFL.

After mounting a 9-play 75-yard drive — in a mere 79 seconds — the Lions scored a touchdown that pulled them to a 20-19 deficit against the Cowboys. Rather than kick the extra point, Detroit instead chose to go for a win with a 2-point conversion and only 27 seconds left in regulation. What happened next is where everything went off the rails.

Video showed Goff grabbing offensive tackle Taylor Decker in the huddle and directing him toward referee Brad Allen. Footage from different angles then showed Decker and fellow offensive tackle Dan Skipper approaching Allen, where a verbal exchange took place. Decker says he reported as an eligible receiver on the play. Skipper says he didn’t speak. After the trio separated, The crew announced that Skipper had reported as an eligible receiver. But instead of Skipper lining up in what was essentially the tight end spot, he lined up at tackle, and Decker lined up in a spot that would have made him an eligible receiver on the play. Detroit snapped the ball, then lobbed a pass to Decker in the end zone for what appeared to be a potentially game-winning two-point conversion.

Then everything stopped. Two officials had thrown flags on the play. One was for Decker catching the football in the endzone. The other was for Skipper lining up at offensive tackle. The explanation? Allen said Skipper had reported as eligible and Decker had not. This was the exact opposite of what Detroit claimed had happened. Lions coach Dan Campbell went ballistic on the sidelines, and then a rotation of Goff, Decker and Skipper all began screaming at the officials.

The way Detroit lined up on the play was supportive of their claim: Decker was at an eligible receiver spot and Skipper at a non-eligible tackle spot. However, it was the opposite of what the crew had announced. Dallas heard Skipper was the eligible player, but lined up across him when he settled into the tackle spot. Decker was left uncovered in the right end spot.

This is where it gets concerning for the NFL. Video and the play itself is clearly suggestive that the Lions were telling the truth. Goff directed Decker to Allen, there was a verbal exchange between the two, and then Detroit lined up the way it had intended and allegedly reported. But the officiating crew had announced the wrong player as being eligible. Given the opportunity to clear it up afterward, this is what Allen told a pool reporter:

<i>Question: “Why was there a penalty called on the two-point conversion for an illegal touch?”

Allen: “So, we had a situation where if you were going to have an ineligible number occupy an eligible position, you have to report that to the referee. On this particular play, number 70 [Dan Skipper], who had reported during the game a couple of times, reported to me as eligible. Then he lined up at the tackle position. So, actually, he didn’t have to report at all. Number 68 [Taylor Decker], who ended up going downfield and touching the pass, did not report. Therefore, he is an ineligible touching a pass that goes beyond the line, which makes it a foul. So, the issue is, number 70 did report, number 68 did not.”

Question: “There was a player that went to you just before that play — it was Decker — and he was talking to you, two linemen, talking to you and then you went to the Cowboys defensive line to speak to them. What was that conversation about?”

Allen: “That conversation is where number 70 reports to me, and I then go to the defensive team, and I say to them ‘Number 70 has reported as an eligible receiver,’ so they will be aware of who has reported and then I return to my position. That was the conversation with the defensive line.”

Question: “We noticed there were two flags thrown on that same play. Was there another penalty called on that play as well?”

Allen: “Yes. Because number 70 reported as eligible and he was covered up [at tackle] on the line of scrimmage, that makes it an illegal formation. So, number 70 is in an illegal position because he is covered up by rule, and number 68 catches the pass, which is also illegal.”</i>

To be clear, Allen is effectively accusing the Lions of lying here. He’s stating the exact opposite of what the Lions are stating. Which means the Lions are saying Allen is not correct about the play.

Before we get to how this could have happened, it’s important for everyone to understand the flags. If Allen had announced Decker was the eligible receiver, neither flag is thrown. Because both Decker and Skipper are lined up precisely where they’re supposed to be, and there are no fouls on the play. But it’s also important to note that Dallas would have heard that Decker was an eligible receiver on the play, and he may not have been open to catch the 2-point conversion.

Effectively, the mistake screwed both teams. It negated Detroit’s conversion but also potentially warped how Dallas defended the play. Stop and let that sink in. An NFL officiating miscue undermined two teams simultaneously. Either Dallas was getting dinged by not knowing the correct eligible receiver, or Detroit was getting dinged by getting a successful 2-point conversion taken away. And no matter what the crew ruled, one of the two teams was gaining a potential win, and the other was incurring a loss. In a moment with potential playoff seeding implications, no less.

So how does a situation like this happen? There are only three explanations that are plausible.

Maybe the Lions are “mistaken” and didn’t report correctly.

Maybe Allen is “mistaken” and simply said the wrong player’s number when he announced who reported.

Or maybe the confusion came out of sheer gamesmanship. In what was clearly an effort to confuse the Cowboys, the Lions had both Decker and Skipper approach Allen. Likely with the hope that someone on the Dallas defense wasn’t playing close attention and might miss which of the two players was actually eligible. But in the effort to confuse the Cowboys, the Lions instead confused Skipper, who could have heard Decker report as eligible but mistakenly believe it was Skipper.

This sounds like a cluster…because it is. Regardless of what might have been going on around him, Allen has to get that call right. And it’s wildly unbelievable that Detroit would go through the trouble of directing Decker to Allen, and then screw it all up by having Skipper say anything at all to Allen, let alone then have both players step into the wrong spots on the play.

But here’s a more troubling question: If Allen later recognized he had made a mistake, could he admit to it? What would the ramifications be? And if he couldn’t admit to it, is anyone troubled by the fact that it then puts him into a position of basically painting players as mistaken when it comes to a verbal exchange that was vital to the end of the game?

Nearly one year ago at the Super Bowl, Goodell was asked about the heavy amount of heat officiating had received in the 2022 season. His response was to essentially thumb his nose at critics.

“I don’t think it’s ever been better in the league,” Goodell said at his Super Bowl news conference. “There are over 42,000 plays in a season. Multiple infractions could occur on any play. Take that out or extrapolate that. That’s hundreds if not millions of potential fouls. And our officials do an extraordinary job of getting those. Are there mistakes in the context of that? Yes, they are not perfect and officiating never will be.”

After Saturday night, it should at least be more perfect than this. Especially when you put two playoff teams on a stage and then take a high level product and reduce it to a moment that looks flat out busted. Both the Lions and Cowboys deserved better. Instead, they got dragged into a chaotic argument that will carry into Sunday and far beyond.

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