NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino isn’t trying to sugarcoat the key call that went against the Lions in Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys.
Blandino, appearing on PFT Live, told Mike Florio that Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens did get away with a penalty on the Lions’ fourth-quarter pass to Brandon Pettigrew. But Blandino said the missed call that troubled him most was not the pass interference flag that was originally thrown but later picked up.
According to Blandino, the clear penalty Hitchens got away with was defensive holding: Hitchens grabbed Pettigrew’s jersey while Pettigrew was running his route, and Blandino said that should have been called. If it had been, it would have given the Lions an automatic first down.
Blandino said the pass interference penalty that one official flagged, only to get overruled by another official, was a “close call that could have went either way.” Blandino acknowledged that the officials should have done a better job of communicating, first among themselves so that they could get the call right, and then after referee Pete Morelli turned on his microphone to announce the penalty. Morelli first announced pass interference, then later announced that the pass interference penalty would not be enforced — but that second announcement was so hasty that the FOX broadcast missed it.
Although some observers have suggested that Pettigrew also should have been flagged for facemasking Hitchens, Blandino says that’s not the case.
“I felt that was minimal contact,” Blandino said of Pettigrew’s contact with Hitchens’s facemask.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant ran onto the field to argue the pass interference call, and Blandino said Bryant could have been flagged for that. Blandino said running on the field to argue with an official is “not an automatic penalty,” but he added that “I certainly would have supported a call for unsportsmanlike conduct.”
Ultimately, Blandino admits, if all of the elements of that play had been called correctly, the Lions would have had a first down. Instead the Lions had a fourth down, shanked a punt, and gave up the game-winning touchdown on the subsequent drive. The Lions will be left to wonder what might have happened if that penalty on Hitchens had been called.