The officials making this or that decision on the pass interference-face blocking call didn’t decide the game. The Dallas Cowboys figuring out how to pierce the defense of the Detroit Lions, big plays from DeMarcus Lawrence and Kyle Wilber on the defensive end and a great performance from Tony Romo made all the difference in a 24-20 win.
But teams that lose, at least publicly, try to make it about everything and everyone but themselves. They’ll talk about that big decision of a flag being thrown on a pass interference against Anthony Hitchens of the Cowboys on a big third down play, stopping Brandon Pettigrew from catching the ball. At first it was ruled as a pass interference but the call was changed and the Lions went to fourth down, in which they decided to punt in a cowardly call from Jim Caldwell.
It’s debatable whether what Hitchens did was pass interference. It probably depends which team you like more. But Pettigrew also committed a clear face mask violation. It probably should have been a replay of the third down and not go to fourth, but the Lions turned the ball over three times and found it very difficult to disturb Tony Romo in the second half after doing an excellent job of slowing him down and keeping him running in the first. That is why they lost the game, not some official call which isn’t as controversial as some would like you to believe.
There was also the Cowboys defense stepping up. Matthew Stafford was perfect against the blitz in the first half, completing four-of-four passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. But those blitzed in the second half stopped, and the Cowboys did a lot better with a standard four man pass rush, holding the Lions to just three points, forcing three turnovers off of Stafford. One was the interception by Wilber after the ball was tipped, and the last was Lawrence sacking and causing the fumble on the last drive for the Lions to tie the game, leading to the victory formation.
The Cowboys made it difficult for themselves. Down 17-7 in the third quarter the dependable Dan Bailey missed a field goal. Everything that worked so well all season long on the road turned out to be difficult at home, and the Lions took a 20-7 lead on the next drive. It looked like another playoff disappointment for the Cowboys, trying to win their first game in the postseason since 2009, It could have been another black mark on the career of Tony Romo.
But for all of its struggles (DeMarco Murray held to just 75 yards), the Cowboys came back with a great 80-yard drive. One touchdown in it was nullified because of holding, but Murray eventually found his way into the end zone. The Cowboys opening drive of the fourth quarter ended in a field goal after Romo was sacked twice. But the Lions kept making mistakes and playing scared, bad and predictable offense, leading the Cowboys to a long, almost six minute drive, capped off by Romo finding Terrance Williams for a second time in the game to score the game winning touchdown, celebrating with his face to the turf after being taken down.
Romo was sacked six times and the great wall that did so well to protect him for most of the season struggled against creative blitzing schemes from the Lions. But he didn’t throw an interception and his only fumble was recovered by his teammates. Cole Beasley dropped too many passes and Dez Bryant was often stuck in double coverage. Romo finished with 293 passing yards and the two touchdown strikes in a game that wasn’t out of the ordinary for him, yet still was so different from the perception of him in the playoffs.
The Cowboys now move on to play the Packers in the postseason for the first time since 1967. In the cold of Green Bay, it’s going to be a very different game, but the Cowboys have thrived against the odds in all of their road games this season. What’s one more to the long list of proving everybody wrong? The Lions can keep complaining about officials, but they remain waiting for the team’s first playoff win since 1991, and forgetting about all the bogus penalty calls they benefited from earlier in the game.