A saying that held true for decades that you had to win in all three phases in the NFL needs to be updated.
Winning on offense, defense and special teams isn’t enough in the 21st Century National Football League.
You have to win – or at least break even -- with the officials, too.
That was the excruciating lesson we learned from the Detroit Lions’ 23-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field Monday night.
That’s at the top of the list of the things we learned. Among the others: You can’t give away points on dropped passes and misplays, or give points to your opponent with a pre-snap penalty; it’s still important to win the line of scrimmage; and how the margin between victory and defeat, first place and last, is as thin as the one-point margin of Monday night’s game.
We start with the officials:
It has been open season on the zebras for the last few years, but never at the rate of the first six weeks of this season. There are too many blown calls and questionable judgments to ignore how they are impacting the outcome of games, as was the case Monday night.
The bottom line: When respected people such as Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy openly criticize the officials, the league has a real problem. Dungy posted the following on social media: “I’m not saying officials cost the Lions the game. I’m saying three wrong calls and one obvious missed call in a half is unacceptable. Doesn’t matter who wins the game.”
Well, it does matter who wins the game because the four calls he singled out went against the Lions.
My take: The officials had a bad game Monday night. Further reviews of the two calls in the fourth quarter against Lions defensive end Trey Flowers for illegal use of hands showed that they were wrong. Flowers did not get his left hand into the neck or face of the Packers’ offensive lineman blocking on the plays.
Both penalties were on third down and gave the Packers first downs. They converted one into a TD pass. The second let them bleed the clock down far enough to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.
Former NFL official John Parry, now working as the officiating analyst for ESPN’s Monday night games, said in an interview on ESPN Tuesday morning that Flowers played the right technique on both plays.
That’s no consolation for the Lions, but it never is for any team that has felt wronged by the officials. There’s also no recourse. Which leads us to the following:
Giveaways: Points are everything, and the Lions gave away enough points that would have made the Packers’ fourth-quarter rally as inconsequential as the Cowboys’ rally the previous week that cut the Packers' 31-3 lead to a more cosmetic final score of 34-24.
The Lions were penalized for having 12 men on the field for a second-quarter field goal attempt by the Packers. That gave the Packers a first down, and they drove to a TD that cut the Lions’ lead to 13-7.
That was a four-point swing for the Packers.
Later in the quarter, Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson had a pass in his hands in the end zone but lost possession when he hit the turf. The Lions settled for a field goal – and another four-point swing.
The Lions were in the red zone four times and settled for field goals three times. That’s another four points for each field goal vs. a touchdown.
The points the Lions left on the field by setting for field goals instead of touchdowns, and the four they gave the Packers on the field-goal penalty added up to enough to make the calls on Flowers meaningless.
On the line: The Packers won that matchup, rushing for 170 yards and 5.9 yards per carry, to 56 yards and 2.8 yards per carry for the Lions.
The outcome: It was a refresher on the importance of division games, because they count like they’re two because of the impact on the standings.
The win made the Packers’ won-loss record 5-1. The Lions dropped to 2-2-1 and in last place in the NFC North, with the Vikings (4-2) and Bears (3-2) ahead of them.
That was a costly one-point loss.