The Detroit Lions are headed for the second NFC Championship Game in franchise history after beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round. Going to San Francisco and beating the No. 1 seed 49ers will be a challenge, but some Lions' fans will now see an opponent in a zebra-striped shirt on Sunday.
On Monday, the NFL announced the referee assignments for the conference championship games. Clete Blakeman will be the referee for the NFC Championship Game.
This is Blakeman’s 14th postseason assignment in 16 seasons as an NFL official (14 as a referee), including four Wild Card Playoff games, five Divisional Playoff games, four Conference Championships and Super Bowl 50. His Super Bowl assignment was as the referee.
Lions fans remember Blakeman from a 2019 "Monday Night Football" game against the Green Bay Packers. Blakeman’s crew called two illegal hands to the face calls against the Lions defensive end Trey Flowers, including one that the league later admitted was a mistake. Both calls led to the Packers extending drives that resulted in 10 points in a 23-22 loss for Detroit.
Clete Blakeman is referee for Lions-49ers NFC Championship game
Crews are mixed during the playoffs, which is worth noting. According to NFL penalties.com, officiating crews led by Blakeman rank 12th out of 17 in flags thrown in 16 games this season (10.9 penalties per game). League average is 11.36 penalties per game. The distribution of penalties is relatively split between flags against home and road teams by Blakeman's crews this year, with 5.25 penalties per game against home teams and 5.69 penalties per game against road teams.
Blakeman was the referee for one Lions' game this season, the Week 8 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. There were nine penalties called in that game, five against the Lions and four against the Raiders.
Scars of that 2019 game against the Packers are briefly back to the surface for Lions' fans. Hopefully there are no costly controversial calls by Blakeman and his crew on Sunday.