Officiating, Campbell's decisions foil Lions

Lions coach Dan Campbell reacts to a controversial call that nullified a go-ahead two-point conversion in the Lions 20-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
Lions coach Dan Campbell reacts to a controversial call that nullified a go-ahead two-point conversion in the Lions 20-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Saturday at AT&T Stadium.

Former head coach Jimmy Johnson, honored at halftime of Dallas’ 20-19 win over Detroit, was known to roll the dice and defy game-management convention. But the risk-taking exhibited by Detroit coach Dan Campbell Saturday night had to curl even Johnson’s famously stiff hair. 


The Cowboys held on to their one-point win, turning away not one, not two…but three two-point conversion attempts by the Lions, any of which would have given Detroit the lead with 23 seconds remaining in the game. 


The Lions had just driven 75 yards on the strength of three Jared Goff passes to standout rookie tight end Sam LaPorta (seven catches on the night). Goff finished off the march with an 11-yard TD pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown, who tightroped the sideline, diving into the end zone to cut the Dallas advantage to one point.


Then things got nutty. The Lions opted to go for the win, and appeared to get it, when Goff completed a pass to offensive lineman Taylor Decker in the end zone. However, Detroit was flagged for an illegal touch, even though replays showed that Decker, the perpetrator, approached official Brad Allen before the snap, and seemed to inform Allen that he was reporting as an eligible receiver. Allen later claimed a different Lion lineman reported as eligible. That lineman, Dan Skipper, claimed he didn’t say a word.


Nuts, right?


“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Campbell, visibly angry with Allen when they talked after the officials made the call. “I explain everything pregame to a tee, OK? I did that.”


With the ball moved back to the 7-yard line, Detroit would surely kick the extra point for the tie and try to win in overtime. Nope. Campbell again went for the two points. Goff’s pass fell incomplete, but Dallas' Micah Parsons was whistled for offsides, moving the ball to the 4-yard line. Once more, Detroit went for two points, and Goff’s pass again was incomplete. Dallas' CeeDee Lamb corralled Detroit's ensuing onside kick to end the game.  


Lost in Campbell’s questionable decision-making was the game management and strategy exhibited just a few minutes earlier by Dallascoaching staff. 


Set up on an interception by Cowboys defensive back Donovan Gibson, the Cowboys took over with 2:05 left in the game at the Lions 29. A tripping call moved the offense backwards before Dak Prescott hit Lamb to move the ball back into field goal range. Faced with a 4th-and-6 at Detroit’s 25, Dallas sent out Mr. Perfection, Brandon Aubrey, to kick a 43-yard field goal to make it 20-13. 


There is an argument to be made that Dallas should have gone for it on fourth down. A successful conversion would have allowed them to run out the clock. Even if Dallas failed to pick up the first down, Detroit still would have needed to drive 75 yards for a game-winning touchdown.


Just as questionable was defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s strategy to play pillowy soft coverage when Detroit took over after Aubrey’s field goal. The NFL axiom that “a prevent defense prevents you from winning” nearly stung Quinn. 


But, just in case too much attention was being paid to the coaches on the other sideline, Dan Campbell decided to roll out onto the Dallas star in a jacked-up 4x4 sporting Bunny mud flaps and a stocked gun rack. While his decision to go for the first two-point conversion was in keeping with his no-holds-barred rep, to go again from the 7-yard line was not in keeping with reason. Bailed out by the Parsons penalty and given another chance to kick the extra point for the tie, this Jack Reacher-wannabe doubled down. 


That their coach gave in to his risk-taking nature is not without consequence. The loss likely costs the Lions a shot at one of the top two seeds in the NFC. It even means they are NOT a lock for the No. 3. seed. Supporters of Campbell's decisions last night will argue that he is showing confidence in his players. How about showing confidence that your team can beat an opponent in overtime? Should Detroit end up playing its first playoff game on the road (unlikely, but possible), then Campbell's  “look at how dangerous I roll” bravado needs to come under greater scrutiny. 


The absurd circumstances that finished the game overshadowed what happened before it. 


An eventful first half included a 92-yard TD pass from Prescott to Lamb on 3rd-and-13 that put Dallas up, 7-3. More in the mood to hunt lions then lay with them, Lamb posted career highs in catches (13) and yards (227) and was at the threshold of putting Dallas up two possessions when he fumbled a completed pass just short of the goal line. The ball rolled into and out of the end zone. The scored stayed 7-3.


On the ensuing possession, Detroit went 76 yards, the drive extended by a fake punt that netted 31 yards. But the Cowboys defense stiffened inside its own 10 and forced a turnover on downs. 


Detroit eventually did take the lead, 10-7, on its opening drive of the second half, relying on its powerful running game. Back David Montgomery scored on a three-yard run, his 12th rushing touchdown of the season. The teams exchanged field goals before Dallas took a 17-13 lead on a Prescott pass to Brandin Cooks. 


And that’s where the game stood until Gibson’s pick with just over two minutes remaining set up Aubrey’s second field goal of the night. The rookie kicker also kicked a 51-yard field goal earlier in the game and extended his remarkable unblemished streak to 35 field goals.


With the win, Dallas moves to 11-5 and puts pressure on the Eagles to remain even atop the NFC East. The Cowboys travel to Washington to finish the regular season. We spelled out how costly this loss was to Detroit. They can clinch at least the No. 3 seed with a win at home against the Vikings. 

Latest Player Notes

Steelers positional analysis: Kenny Pickett stands alone in QB room

2/17/2024If the Steelers were concerned about the uncertain future at quarterback when Ben Roethlisberger retired, the outlook ...

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan doesn’t deserve criticism since Super Bowl

Globe StaffUpdated February 17, 2024, 9:38 a.m.Kyle Shanahan has been on the defensive all week following the 49ers’ 25-22 ...

New Raiders GM expected to be aggressive in search for top QB

February 17, 2024 - 4:19 PMIf Tom Telesco’s past offers clues about his future, expect the Raiders’ new general manager to ...

Mark Kiszla: After hating on Russell Wilson, maybe Sean Payton should give Sam Darnold some love

Sam Darnold needs a second chance to prove his worth in the NFL almost as desperately as the Broncos need a quarterback.Could ...

Grading the Week: Broncos QB Russell Wilson sounds like he can’t get away from Sean Payton fast enough

2/17/2024Apparently, Russell Wilson and Ciara didn’t buy what Sean Payton was shoveling on radio row during Super Bowl Week.A ...

When Deshaun Watson will begin throwing; how he feels about new OC Ken Dorsey, and more: Browns Insider

cleveland.comCLEVELAND, Ohio — Deshaun Watson is on track in his rehab schedule from shoulder surgery — maybe even a little ...

Jay Harbaugh stepping out of family circle for first time with Seahawks

Seattle Times staff reporterIf Jay Harbaugh’s last name gives him a hefty family legacy to live up to, his new position with ...

What the 49ers said after coming back to beat Packers

16-20 minutes 1/21/2024The 49ers earned a wild playoff win in a rainstorm Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium, coming back to ...

Why 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw wouldn’t go down after game-winning interception vs. Packers

5-7 minutes 1/21/2024SANTA CLARA — Dre Greenlaw was running zig-zags with the joy of a third-grader dodging tackles at recess.A ...

3 things that went right for Steelers offense, 3 that new offensive coordinator must fix

Mike Tomlin is going outside of his comfort zone — and the organization — to find his next offensive coordinator.Not since ...
See More Player Notes