For Detroit Lions, Mediocrity & Bad Officiating Go Hand-In-Hand

Sep 18, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron (85) reacts as referee Brad Allen (122) makes a call during the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron (85) reacts as referee Brad Allen (122) makes a call during the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Lions seem to be constant victims of bad officiating, but is it a grand NFL conspiracy against our team or something a little more explainable?

Over the last few years as the Detroit Lions’ have risen slightly in the NFL pecking chain from perennial laughing-stock to mediocrity, the outcomes of many of their games have been adversely affected by bad officiating and blown calls. Many of these calls turned a possible win into certain defeat.

Has officiating gotten that much more terrible over the years, is it a conspiracy against the Lions’ franchise and/or the city of Detroit, or is it a little more explainable?

Rise of #DetroitVsEverybody

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Much of the focus of the bad officiating began in the 2014 playoffs when the Detroit Lions were victims of one bad call after another in Jerry Jones World, home of the Dallas Cowboys. The big one, of course, being the pass interference that was called and then rescinded.

The Lions’ offense was driving to add insurance points to a late lead. Had that play stood, it could have continued the drive. Instead, the blown call resulted in confusion, a shanked punt, and a game-winning Dallas drive.

It was easy to feel burned after that game. The self-anointed “America’s Team,” is a bigger national draw than the Detroit Lions, and are probably more highly revered in the NFL offices. So the conclusion of the NFL wanting the Cowboys to advance over the Lions is a valid concern. This is where the #DetroitVsEverybody movement firmly took root.

Of course, for the NFL to truly want Dallas, and not Detroit, to advance, it would require a pretty elaborate conspiracy, which might be easily dismissed if only for the fact that amazingly awful calls keep happening to the Lions.

Batted Balls & Phantom Facemasks 

In 2015, the Lions were victims of many terrible calls, two of which happened against teams that Detroit fans deemed “more important” on the NFL totem pole than their own, Seattle and Green Bay.

The first call was in Seattle on Monday Night Football as Calvin Johnson appeared to be running in for a late score that would likely win the game for the Lions. After Megatron fumbled the ball, Seahawks’ linebacker K.J. Wright slapped it out of the end zone for a touchback, giving the ball back to Seattle, and saddling the Lions with an 0-3 record they would never recover from.

By rule, that call should have been assessed a penalty, with the Lions getting the ball at the one-yard line with a first down. That, of course, didn’t happen.

Fast forward to another nationally televised game in Week 13, with the Lions’ looking to continue their hot streak and make an improbable push to the postseason after a 1-7 start. We’ll save you the details since its hard to relive the phantom facemask and resulting Hail Mary that never should have happened against the Green Bay Packers.

If these two plays in these two games against 2015 playoff teams had been called correctly, the 7-9 Lions would have been the 9-7 Lions, possibly giving them a playoff spot in back-to-back years for the first time since the 1990’s.

Flag Fest 2016

2016 has been just as unkind to the Lions. Week 2’s disappointing game due to penalties and injuries against the Tennessee Titans was one of the most blatant displays of this. Most notably was Eric Ebron‘s touchdown wiped off the board for offensive pass interference that was actually just a good move to beat a defender.

There were several instances of blown calls in this game, but there were also several justifiable ones as the Lions imploded on themselves. One call that does not get much attention was when a Titans’ defender went low on Matthew Stafford, who appeared to be hobbled. No foul was called, even though most said it was clearly roughing the passer. Stafford never appeared to be the same after that hit, ultimately throwing a game-ending interception while trying to lead another come-from-behind victory.

In Week 3, a one-touchdown game might have been decided in favor of Green Bay (again), when the NFL admitted to yet another blown call, this time a 66-yard pass interference penalty on Nevin Lawson when Trevor Davis tripped running into the end zone.

Even in Sunday’s 17-14 loss to the Chicago Bears, there was yet another incorrect pass interference call that hurt the Lions. The Bears scored their first touchdown with the aid of that call, and the margin of defeat ended up being four points.

Mysterious Force or Mediocrity?

Blown calls suck when it affects your team, there’s no doubt, and the frequency in which they are happening to the Lions is noticeable. Yet, when the Lions were winning 0, 1, or 2 games per year, there didn’t seem to be as many blown calls as there are now.

Here’s the thing though, if the Detroit Lions don’t want bad officiating calls to affect the score of a game, play and coach better! Don’t let a team hang around, don’t blow leads, and don’t fall behind by four scores and then try to pull off yet another miraculous comeback.

In the case of Dallas and the Green Bay Hail Mary games, the Lions blew large leads. In the case of the Seattle and Week 3’s Packers’ games, they had to stage comebacks to make the game close. The simple way to not make a blown officiating call be the difference between winning and losing is to play better from the first to last snap of every game.

Now that the Lions are no longer a terrible team, but not a good one yet, they will usually hang around in games and have bad calls decide the outcome. You rarely hear New England Patriots’ fans complaining about bad calls because they just methodically blow opponents out because they are a great football team.

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Admittedly it’s easier said than done to simply play and coach better, but there likely isn’t any grand force conspiring against the Detroit Lions in the NFL offices, no matter how much it seems like it. Unless, of course, that grand force is the Curse of Bobby Layne, which is entirely plausible.