The Detroit Lions haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. On January 4, 2015, that drought could have ended after more than 20 years. Quarterback Matthew Stafford had put the team into a good position for the victory. A third down play in the fourth quarter ended all hopes for the win against the Dallas Cowboys, though. On that play, referees dropped a flag for pass interference.
That flag actually came as good news for the Lions. It would have given the team a first down instead of a fourth down with one yard to go. However, the referees picked up the flag and reversed the call without explanation. Detroit then wound up without the first down, punting the ball back to Dallas. Tony Romo then led Dallas to a late touchdown drive that capped the game 24-20.
Perhaps the NFL hasn’t seen such a controversial call in ages, at least as long as Bruce Levenson has been watching. Without an explanation, fans and players were left in anger, and they took their frustrations everywhere from social media to comments on Forbes articles. A referee did explain the call after the game, stating that pass interference didn’t occur. Even if Anthony Hitchens didn’t commit pass interference against Brandon Pettigrew, a flag still should have been thrown. At nearly the same time, Hitchens committed defensive holding on the play.
Either way, Detroit should have wound up with the first down, maintaining possession of the ball. Such a controversial play directly impacted the outcome of the game. A number of penalties were called against Detroit’s defense from that point on. In the end, the Lions had a big opportunity to eke out a playoff victory before that play. They were guaranteed to lose once that penalty flag was reversed without reason (at the time).