491478038.jpg SEATTLE, WA – OCTOBER 05: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions dives for the end zone during the fourth quarter of a game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on October 5, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE – Calvin Johnson is about to have another rule named after him, and that comes as no consolation to the last winless team in the NFL.
Johnson fumbled away the would-be game-winning touchdown inches before he crossed the goal line in the Detroit Lions’ 13-10 loss to Seattle on Monday night, but Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, said his on-field officials erred in not penalizing the Seahawks on the play.
Johnson caught a third-and-1 pass from Matthew Stafford just inside the two-minute warning with the Lions trailing by three points.
He turned upfield and raced toward the goal line, but as Johnson barreled over one Seattle defender, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor poked the ball out of Johnson’s left arm.
The ball bounded toward the back of the end zone, and rather than scoop it up to secure a touchback, Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright tapped it out of bounds.
Blandino, speaking on the NFL Network after the game, said Wright should have been penalized for illegally batting the football, and the Lions should have retained possession inside the 1.
“You can’t bat the ball in any direction in the end zone, either end zone,” Blandino said. “K.J. Wright batted the football. That is a foul for an illegal bat. The back judge was on the play. In his judgment he didn’t feel it was an overt act, so he didn’t throw the flag. In looking at the replays, it did look like a bat so the enforcement would be, basically we’d go back to the spot of the fumble and Detroit would keep the football.”
All turnovers and plays inside two minutes are automatically reviewed, but Blandino said Wright’s bat was not subject to replay because it was a judgment call.
Usually even-tempered Lions coach Jim Caldwell called the play “questionable” and “ridiculous,” and Lions safety James Ihedigbo said officials – Greg Wilson was the back judge – needed to be held more accountable for their mistakes on the field.
“I’m not going to even go there,” Caldwell said when asked what explanation he got for why it wasn’t called a batted ball. “Talk to Blandino and the rest of those guys. They’ll explain it.”
Told about Blandino’s comments, Caldwell said, “Well, he’s in New York. They (the on-field officials) got the microphone. They talk to him.”
Johnson and the Lions have been at the center of several controversial officiating calls in recent years.
In 2010, the Calvin Johnson Rule entered American vernacular after Johnson was ruled to have not completed the process of a catch on a would-be game-winning touchdown against the Chicago Bears.
Two years later, the Lions lost a game against the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving after a touchdown that shouldn’t have counted was upheld when Jim Schwartz illegally tried to challenge the call on the field.
And last year in the playoffs against the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL acknowledged it missed a defensive holding penalty on a third-and-1 incompletion in which officials picked up a pass-interference flag.
Johnson laughed uneasily when told he was on the wrong side of making history again.
“It’s just unfortunate,” he said. “Like I said, it’s unfortunate, but you can’t blame it on the – you can’t put the game in the referees’ hands.”
Ihedigbo, who forced a fumble that Caraun Reid returned for the Lions’ only touchdown of the game, said he’s not interested in hearing any apology the NFL might issue.
“It’s not going to change it to a win,” Ihedigbo said. “I mean, it’s just unfortunate. I mean, they got to be held accountable just as players are in terms of equipment violations, whatever it might be. There’s a standard that players are held to on the field, there’s a standard that coaches are held to on the field, there’s a standard that teams are held to on the field and there has to be a standard that officials are held to as well. You can’t just apologize.”
Asked whether he thought officials are held to a high enough standard, Ihedigbo said, “No.”
“That’s enough I can say,” Ihedigbo said. “I’m not trying to get fined.”
Blandino, in his comments on NFL Network, said that while the penalty should have been called, a case can be made that it didn’t have an effect on the play. The ball appeared to be going out of bounds anyway, Wright had a clear recovery had he elected to pick the ball up and no Lions player was near the ball.
Wright said he did not know it was a penalty to bat the ball out of bounds intentionally.
“You can’t intentionally knock it out,” he said. “But at the time I wasn’t thinking that, I was just trying to not mess up the game. So I know now.”
Johnson’s fumble came on his seventh catch of the game, when he tied Herman Moore’s franchise record with 670 career receptions, and it ended the only real scoring threat the Lions had all night against the two-time defending NFC champions.
The Lions finished with just 256 yards of total offense, made one trip inside the red zone and have not scored a touchdown in 15 straight offensive possessions dating to last week’s loss to the Denver Broncos.
At 0-4, they’re the only NFL team without a victory, and after squandering a fine defensive effort Monday – they recovered three fumbles and sacked Russell Wilson six times – they face the Arizona Cardinals on a short week this Sunday at Ford Field.
Despite the grave hole the Lions have dug in the first quarter of the season, Caldwell said Monday’s loss would not be devastating to his team’s psyche.
“It’s not life or death,” he said. “It’s not devastating. It’s disappointing, but (what) we have to do is just get refocused, lick our wounds. Our head’s bloodied but unbowed. We just got to tee it back up again and go after it.”
Wilson ran for 40 yards, completed 20 of 26 passes for 287 yards and threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin for the Seahawks’ only touchdown.
Stafford was 24 of 35 passing for 203 yards for the Lions.
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