The Detroit Lions are still stinging from a phantom face mask penalty against Aaron Rodgers that led to the Green Bay Packers hitting a 61-yard Hail Mary pass, but one high-ranking league official is standing behind the call.
The Lions appeared to have pulled off the upset of the Packers on Thursday night when Green Bay's last-ditch lateral play ended up in the hands of Aaron Rodgers, who was swung down to the ground by Lions defensive end Devin Taylor.
But the referees threw a flag for a face mask on the play, giving Green Bay 15 yards and the chance to play one down with no time left on the clock. Aaron Rodgers sailed a throw 61 yards, finding big tight end Richard Rodgers against a Lions defense that had given up position at the front of the end zone.
Lions botched Hail Mary defense https://t.co/WR3KYaizEZ
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 4, 2015
McCarthy calls Rodgers-to-Rodgers #HailMary the "best throw" he's ever seen. Read: https://t.co/f2O3QDfL3w pic.twitter.com/ifzuIcAjIwOf course, replays showed that the face mask never happened. Taylor's thumb only grazed Rodgers' face mask, and instead he grabbed the Green Bay quarterback by the shoulder pad and swung him down.
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) December 4, 2015
But Dean Blandino, the NFL's vice president of officiating, said the call was the right one in real time.
Hand up to the mask, quick grab with finger and head gets turned. At full speed official is going to make that call almost every time.Taylor took a diplomatic stance after the game, refusing to call out the referees, but said he didn't believe he touched Rodgers' face mask.
— Dean Blandino (@DeanBlandino) December 4, 2015
"It's whatever the refs call," Taylor said. "I can't control whatever they decide. I can just play ball, keep going."
Aaron Rodgers was adamant that the referees got the call correct.
"It was a face mask," he said. "I was looking for the flag afterwards. I don't really flop any calls. That was a legit face mask."
The controversial ending to the Lions vs. Packers contest comes amid greater scrutiny on NFL officials for some significant blown calls. This year referees have gotten a number of potentially game-changing plays wrong, including another one that burned the Lions.
And just two weeks ago, the NFL admitted a mistake on the final play of the game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens. Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun noted NFL spokesman Michael Signora admitted officials missed a false start by the Jaguars that would have ended the game. Instead the Jaguars were able to advance into field goal range on a penalty called on Ravens pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, then hit a 53-yard kick to win the game.
"The correct call in this case would have been to penalize the offense for a false start because all 11 players were not set, and whistle to stop the play," Signora said, via Zrebiec. "The ensuing 10-second runoff should have ended the game."
The Jaguars were actually beneficiaries of more than one generous call. After blowing a 24-point lead to the Buffalo Bills in London, the Jaguars were driving for what would be the go-ahead score when the Bills were called for a phantom pass interference penalty, with replays showing that cornerback Nickel Robey never made contact with the Jaguars player.
The penalty allowed the Jaguars to convert a third-and-15, and two plays later, they scored the go-ahead touchdown.
For the Detroit Lions, the phantom face mask call was especially cruel. The team was on its way to sweeping the Packers for the first time since 1991, and a win would have kept their very slim playoff hopes alive.
[Image via CBS screenshot/Deadspin]