The Lions had plenty of opportunities to win Monday night’s game, but they had too many potential touchdowns become field goals. Still, it was a pair of phantom penalties on Detroit defensive lineman Trey Flowers that helped the Packers eliminate a 10-point deficit.
The first, an illegal hands to the face foul that replay review showed clearly wasn’t, wiped out a third-down sack and kept alive the fourth-quarter drive that cut the deficit from 22-13 to 22-20. The second, another illegal hands to the face call on Flowers, gave Green Bay a fresh set of downs in the red zone and allowed them to burn the remaining 1:36 off the clock before kicking the game-winning field goal, denying the Lions a chance to win it with a late field goal of their own.
Both decisions were heavily criticized by Booger McFarland of ESPN, with rules expert John Parry being more diplomatic but nevertheless agreeing that Flowers’ hand did not stray far enough up the shoulder pads of Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari to constitute illegal hands to the face. The failures underscore the potential value of replay review initiated by coach’s challenge for anything and everything, a device that Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the mentor of Lions coach Matt Patricia, has long advocated.
With or without replay review, these are calls that need to be gotten right in real time. Which brings back into focus the possibility of a video official, who would (as we’ve proposed numerous times over the years) operate as a member of the officiating crew and who would participate in the first look decision-making process, telling the referee (for example) that Flowers did not have his hand in the head or neck area of Bakhtiari in either case, urging the flag to be picked up.
However the league handles it, the league must bridge the gap between the images we see in HD or 4K at home and the flashes and blurs that middle-aged-and-older officials wearing spandex see with the naked eye while primarily trying to avoid being trampled by young, large, fast men wearing armor. The proliferation of legalized gambling underscores the need for zealously ensuring the integity of outcome and the integrity of the final score.
Given the amount of money that the NFL stands to earn from the spread of permissible wagering, some of that revenue must be devoted to addressing this issue. Coincidentally, owners meet this week; this growing problem with officiating should be at the top of their agenda, because it’s the biggest threat their game currently faces.