In the moment, it looked like the Detroit Lions had rallied to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night. But then came a flag, and left tackle Taylor Decker was called for illegal touching because he had not reported as eligible.
Subsequent evidence suggests Decker walked over to referee Brad Allen to report as eligible, and did what he had to make it clear he was doing so according to the rule. That reporting process is ripe for mistakes or misinterpretations to happen, but that's a separate conversation. Allen would go on say that Dan Skipper (No. 70, seen running on the field late when Decker is standing right in front of Allen) reported as eligible.
The aforementioned video makes it clear he could not have done so, and Skipper confirmed that after the game.
Human error happens, and it would be nice if Allen simply owned the mistake. The NFL is set to demote Allen's crew and not have them call a playoff game, which is absolutely the appropriate decision.
NFL trying to blame the Lions for egregious officiating error in Cowboys' game
There's been some talk about how the Lions had two lineman (Penei Sewell and Decker) near Allen, so as not to give away that Decker was reporting as eligible as Skipper ran on late to make it three. Allen has to communicate who is reporting as eligible to the defense (a weird dynamic to that process), and assumed with Skipper running on late that he was the one reporting.
It's fairly common practice to do it how the Lions did it there, even if who's reporting as eligible will be told to the defense anyway.
According to Pro Football Talk, the NFL has no plans to change the procedure for players reporting as eligible. But there's more.
"Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL does not plan to change the procedure for players reporting as eligible. The league views the situation as an effort by the Lions to engage in deception and gamesmanship that backfired."
On "Good Morning Football" Monday morning, from the perspective of a player, Jason McCourty nailed it.
After the game, Dan Campbell said he explained the play to the officials pre-game ("to a T", was the exact quote).
Pro Football Talk added that, for some reason, Allen was not part of that pregame meeting with Campbell and that is somehow "standard procedure." The Lions routinely use Skipper as an extra offensive lineman, but this time sending him on was to attempt to throw the Cowboys off the scent that Decker would be eligible and the intended target.
In their attempt to deceive the Cowboys the Lions fooled Allen, who was not part of the meeting that would have told him about the intended process of a play that may come in the game. It was an obvious officiating mistake, if only because Allen didn't take his time to absolutely confirm who was reporting as eligible-as he easily could have, and a good referee surely would have in that big of a moment.
But the NFL wants to blame the Lions for "deception and gamesmanship that backfired."