The Hunt Report: Detroit Lions Fumble Away Game to Dallas Cowboys in Controversial Finish


The Detroit Lions were in uncharted territory. They had a fourth quarter lead in the playoffs with plenty of momentum against a Dallas Cowboys team that seemed destined to make enough mistakes to hand them the game.

Then, usual history intervened.

If the past has taught fans anything, it’s that in the playoffs, the Lions will find a way to fall apart more often than not through their own doing or someone else’s. This time, it ended up being both, as Pete Morelli inexplicably picked up a flag that would have allowed Detroit’s offense to keep moving the ball late in the fourth quarter.

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A shanked punt later, and the Lions were on their way to completing another collapse in spite of a roaring start and a game that was looking destined to go their way. When Tony Romo hit Terrance Williams in the back of the end zone, Detroit trailed for the first time all day. When Stafford fumbled while trying to lead the comeback, it was mercifully and shockingly over.

The Lions lost a hunt they seemed destined to win in the playoffs by the excruciatingly thin margin of 24-20, and thanks to the strange, shady circumstances, the defeat felt even worse than the close final score would indicate.

Detroit’s season may be over, but The Hunt Report is just getting started breaking down the playoff disappointment.

The First Series In The Second Half Paved The Way For Dallas’s Eventual Comeback. After Dan Bailey slipped a field goal wide after Matthew Stafford’s interception to open half, the Cowboys were teetering on the brink of sustaining a knockout blow with Detroit’s offense pushing toward the red zone. Then, Dallas managed a key stop and forced Matt Prater to connect on a field goal. The game was 20-7, but mentally, that sequence was significant. Dallas likely would have had a harder time finding the stamina to rally from down 24-7. Instead, they turned a two touchdown disadvantage into an eventual victory. It was a significant moment.

Pete Morelli Was Incompetent, Losing All Control Of The Game. Certainly, the Lions had their chances to stop the Cowboys and win the game otherwise, but that doesn’t excuse the awful judgement by Morelli and his crew to pick up an obvious defensive pass interference flag. There was no doubt that Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens was draped all over Brandon Pettigrew and deserving of a pass interference call, but shockingly, Morelli didn’t explain anything and picked the flag up, giving a rookie the benefit of the doubt. Additionally,Dez Bryant sprung from the bench to argue the call without a helmet. That response should have drawn some type of action, which Morelli and his staff completely ignored. The referees lost control of the game in this moment, and looked incompetent as a result. The NFL should punish Morelli by docking his ability to call playoff games in the future. Some type of response is necessary.

The referees lost control of the game in this moment, and looked incompetent as a result. The NFL should punish Morelli by docking his ability to call playoff games in the future.

Still, Don’t Forget The Shanked Punt And Fumbles. The non-call heard ’round the world did impact momentum and the finish, but if Sam Martin doesn’t immediately shank a punt, perhaps Detroit’s defense can get off the field easier. Perhaps Jim Caldwell should have also entertained thoughts of going on fourth and short instead of attempting said punt. The referees didn’t force Stafford to fumble twice in the dying minutes of the game, either. Detroit still had a chance to win despite the call, and didn’t make the plays needed to win when all was said and done. The loss is equal parts on the officials, but also on the Lions and Stafford for not being able to punch in one more score to widen their tentative lead or even rally at the end. Great teams use officiating mistakes as fuel for a bigger comeback.

Detroit’s Offensive Line Played A Heroic Role. For most of the game, the Lions were able to excecute on offense, and that was no small miracle given the trouble they were dealing with up front. Not only was Detroit without LaAdrian Waddle and Larry Warford, Travis Swanson went down early, forcing Garrett Reynolds into the game. Somehow, Detroit’s line didn’t miss a beat. Though the offense didn’t find the end zone after a pair of early scores, Stafford had a quality pocket to operate with much of the day, and the run game showed well enough to help the offense much of the day. Considering the bodies in and out, this was no small feat.

The Lions Defense Is Nasty. Most of the day, the Cowboys had no answer for the Lions’ pass rush or defense in general. Dallas didn’t hit a multitude of big pass plays, save for both their touchdowns and a fourth down conversion. They didn’t sustain drives, nor did they look impressive in the process. That was due to the Lions’ suffocating defense, which stopped DeMarco Murray cold, contained the passing game and turned up the heat on Romo. Perhaps the most unfortunate part of the loss is that Detroit’s defense didn’t get a chance to score the win they worked so hard to get.

If Ndamukong Suh Played His Last Game As A Lion, It Was A Hell Of A Game. Suh was his vintage self Sunday, sacking the quarterback twice, stuffing the run all day and being an all-out game-changer for Detroit’s defense. After the gut-wrenching loss, it was clear Suh was taking things the hardest. “I apologize, I’m just speechless,” Suh said after leaving to gather himself with tears flowing. “I feel like we played as hard as we could. We put it all out there. I just didn’t expect this outcome. It’s sickening.” What wasn’t sickening was Suh’s excellent effort when it counted most.

It Was A Very Good Year. Fans can wear their Lions’ colors proud, because Detroit enjoyed a thrilling season in 2014 with plenty of exciting plays and moments along the way. Detroit bulldozed their NFC North competition save for one game, making the playoffs with 11 wins and showed a pulse while there, a definite turnaround from season’s past. Public sentiment is also on the team’s side after the crooked officiating helped cost them a chance to win on the road against the Cowboys. All in all, not a bad end to 2014 or start to 2015, even in unfortunate defeat.

Lions? In addition to Suh and all of the offensive linemen, Golden Tate played an exceptional game, catching an early score and helping in the running game. Defensively, the entire line did an exceptional job getting pressure and stopping the run.

Lambs? Sam Martin misfired a key punt after drawing a call early. Jeremy Ross continued to be a lost cause on kickoff and punt returns, making bad decisions and fumbling early in the game. Obviously, the officials take the cake here, as well.

What About The Key Matchup? Coming into this game, we said it would be key to watch Dez Bryant going up against Detroit’s defensive backfield. The Lions played Bryant extremely well, shutting him down and shutting him out of the game with a variety of coverages. He made one 43 yard catch, but wasn’t an impact player thanks to the shadowing in the secondary. Watching Bryant celebrate after the game was laughable, considering he did next to nothing to lead the Cowboys to the win.

Number To Note: 8, the number of penalties the Lions sustained, including three defensive calls on Dallas’s final drive of the game. Detroit was good enough to win the game straight up, but still couldn’t avoid the type of silly mistakes that have cost them dearly in the past. At some point, penalties won’t be the narrative. Chances are, then and only then will the Lions be able to call themselves true champions.

He Said It: “They didn’t give me a good enough explanation.” —Jim Caldwell. Likely, that quote sums up the feelings of everyone in Detroit and across the nation. The troubling thing? Morelli didn’t give anyone an explanation until well after the game, be it Caldwell or the stadium as a whole. Simply put, more should be expected of NFL officials who have a tough but important job.