Lions Look: Controversy Does Not Even Scratch The Surface

This is a piece that no writer who follows and reports on the National Football League wishes to pen.

The content of this article should be about the Detroit Lions either winning their fifth game in a row against the Green Bay Packers, not only giving the Lions the lead in the NFC North standings but enjoying a win streak over the Pack the Lions have not experienced since the early 1950’s, or about losing to Green Bay to push the Lions down to the divisional basement despite being 2-2-1. This should be about the Packers either suffering their second loss of the season in front of their own fans at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football, or coming from behind an early 13 point deficit for kicker Mason Crosby to hit a game winning field goal as time expired to propel the Packers to a 23-22 victory to keep Green Bay at the top of the division.

But that is not what the football world is talking about right now. The story is one that has continued to plague NFL games, and that is officiating mistakes that are occurring at the most critical times of a game that are having an influence on the outcome.

The crux of the controversy (and that is a nice way of putting it) centers around 2 illegal hands to the face penalties incurred by Lions defensive end Trey Flowers being allegedly committed on Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari on successive drives, with umpire Jeff Rice calling the infraction each time. In both instances, video footage shows Flowers hand in question was around the collar of Bakhtiari, not in the blocker's face. ESPN color analyst Anthony "Booger" McFarland openly stated they were bad calls, even though he believed that the first call at least was made because Flowers strength pushed Bakhtiari back with so much force that it could have been mistaken for the defender gaining leverage illegally. But the second flag by the same official was deemed an inexcusable mistake by McFarland. Those two penalties would extend Green Bay drives that turned into 10 points, which would wipe out the Lions lead, thus costing them the game. Some are blaming the Lions for "settling" for 5 Matt Prater field goals in keeping the game as opposed to not scoring touchdowns. This is an asinine conclusion on a couple levels. One, it's not like the Lions offense was on the field alone. Green Bay's defense did their job in minimizing the damage on the scoreboard, and they should be commended for that effort, not discounted or forgotten. Besides, the 15 points made off the right foot of Prater is the equivalent of 2 touchdowns, an extra point, & a 2 point conversion, so what the hell is the logic in the argument? Two, and most important, is any team is making decisions based on the situation of the game at that time. If Lions head coach Matt Patricia opted to attempt a fourth down conversion at any time instead of trying a field goal and said conversion attempt failed, the discussion flips around to Patricia making a bad coaching decision, so it's a no win proposition. Patricia made the right call given the circumstances. His team held the lead, they were within Prater's range, and the best play was to extend the lead.

But this issue of officiating is larger than a single primetime game where a division lead was on the line, and after the debacle in the NFC Championship game last year, the NFL must be keenly aware of this problem. The parity of talent within the NFL has ensured that more than 50% of all games are decided by one score or less in any given season. That means that unless the NFL takes intelligent action to rectify this, controversies like this are always one game away. We've already seen one mar a conference championship game result. Must it happen again before this issue is taken seriously? If anyone were to ask this scribe what could be done to repair officiating, the theme should be simplify it for folks in black and white stripes. The NFL has added so points of emphasis, rules modifications, and safety concerns while never re-examining the rulebook that it seems as though the only thing that will prevail is confusion. Either a respected senior official or blue ribbon league appointed committee needs to streamline the NFL rulebook so that field calls can be made consistently. College football utilizes replay with a video official who can stop action when a play deserves to be reviewed to ensure accuracy. They don't examine every inch of the field looking for infractions, but they make their area of focus the general vicinity of the ball. That's a constructive idea that should be considered. Perhaps another one would be making each official responsible for either a section of the field or watching a small subset of players. It always appears to be a conference of the majority of the entire officiating crew on a lot of flags, even the most rudimentary of calls. Unless another official saw something that openly refutes the official in position, hold that single official accountable to the referee, who is often the crew chief. And maybe there are other smart remedies to this ailment, but continuing on this path will only continue to erode public confidence in the NFL product. And given the number of so called businessmen in ownership roles, one would figure this would set off alarm bells that would cause permanent hearing loss.

For those coming to read observation and analysis on the most recent Lions game, apologies are in order. Silence only benefits the tormentor, not the tormented, a quote by Elie Wiesel. Rationalizing these officiating errors without holding people accountable only helps the NFL and hurts those who enjoy it as a form of entertainment and as a sporting contest, and causes harm to the players, coaches, and executives who make their living off of this game. But for now, as The Pride seethe, the Lions will host the Minnesota Vikings in six days time to get back on the winning track.