Despite Bad Call, Lions Have Themselves to Blame in Loss to Cowboys

By Chris Murray
For The Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens collides with Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew on a controversial reversal of a pass interference call.

Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens collides with Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew on a controversial reversal of a pass interference call.

All the tumult and shouting from the Dallas Cowboys 24-20 win over the Detroit Lions in Sunday’s NFC Wildcard game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex. is not coming from Tony Romo’s game-winning eight-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams.

Fans on social media and on sports talking radio have been debating the controversial pass interference call or better yet non-call that happened midway through the fourth quarter.

Ahead 20-17, the Lions had a third and one at the Dallas 46 when quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. A flag for pass interference was called against Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who appeared to be face guarding Pettigrew while also making contact with his shoulder while the ball was in the air.

Incredibly, referee Pete Morelli announced that the flag had been picked up without explanation. After the game, Morelli told pool reporter, ESPN’s Todd Archer that it was the head linesman who overruled the back judge who initially threw the flag. He also said that unlike the collegiate level, face guarding a receiver is not a penalty.

To be honest, it was bad officiating on that play in more ways than one, but it wasn’t the reason the Lions lost the game. I’ll get to that momentarily.

After that call, things began going South for the Lions. On fourth and one, the Lions intentionally took a delay of game penalty and then punted. But Sam Martin’s punt went just 10 yards. It took the Cowboys 11 plays and 59 yards to get what turned out to be the winning score.

On social media, the non-interference call was justifiably vilified by fans, especially those who hate the Cowboys. Some even pointed to a story that came out back in August that said Dean Blandino, the NFL’s Vice President of Officiating, was seen on a Cowboys-themed party bus hosted by Jerry Jones.
I guess they were implying that somehow Jones slipped Blandino a little something-something to instruct his guys to call things the Cowboys way during the season.

Enough of the conspiracy theories, let’s get down to the football end of all this.

For starters, the lack of an interference call was merely one thing the refs missed on the play involving Pettigrew and Hitchens.

As he was running his pattern, Pettigrew grabbed Hitchens face mask—a 15-yard penalty against the offense. But then Hitchens grabbed Pettigrew’s jersey, which should have been defensive holding or illegal contact.
And lest we forget the antics of Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who came off the bench without his helmet and should have gotten a 15-yard penalty. On that one play the officials definitely got it wrong.

But at the end of the day, it wasn’t the reason the Lions were eliminated from the playoffs. The Lions have themselves to blame for losing this game.

After the controversial play, the Lions still had fourth and one at the Cowboys 46. If they go for it there and make it, we’re not talking about what happened on the previous down.

I’d like to think that if you have players like wide receiver Calvin Johnson or even Reggie Bush you can get one yard against an average Cowboys defense. Johnson, who caught five passes for 85 yards, constantly burned Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr. Running back Joique Bell, who had 43 yards rushing, should be able to get one yard against that defense.

But head coach Jim Caldwell played it conservative and punted, which was not a bad thing to do to pin the Cowboys deep into their own territory. Unfortunately, Martin shanked the punt and the ball traveled a mere 10 yards and put Dallas in good field position at the Cowboys 36—bad execution on the part of the Lions.

If you go back to the play on third and one, the reason there was a collision between Pettigrew and Hitchens. It was a poorly thrown ball by Stafford. If he gets some loft on that ball and puts it out there where Pettigrew can get it, it’s a big play for the Lions.

After Dallas scored the go-ahead touchdown, the Lions had the ball with 2:32 and two timeouts left. That’s plenty of time to march down the field and win the game. The Lions drove from their own 20 to the Dallas 42 and needed three yards to convert on fourth down.
Unfortunately for the Lions, Stafford not only gets sacked, but he fumbled the football. You can’t put that on that non pass interference call. The Lions had an excellent opportunity to win the game, but did not execute when it counted.
After scoring the game’s first two touchdowns in the first quarter, Detroit scored just six points over the next three quarters. The Lions rolled up 257 yards of offense in the first half and had 13 first downs. In the second half, Detroit had just 140 yards and just six first downs.

I know the emotion of Lions fans and those who just hate the Cowboys are going to harp on the non-interference call with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter as the main cause of Detroit’s demise. Yes, the officials screwed up royally on that one play.

However, the Lions did not make enough plays to advance to the next round, something Caldwell was quick to point out during his postgame press conference.

“I’m not going to sit up here and act like that was the play that made the difference in the game. We still had our chances,” Caldwell said.


The Associated  Press contributed to this report.

At 6-2, Are the Detroit Lions For Real or Another Heart Break in Motown

By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray Report

Their best receiver, who incidentally happens to be the best on the planet, is still sideline by injury and has registered a pedestrian 22 catches at the season’s midway point.

The Detroit Lions are 6-2 so far this season and are in first place in the NFC North.

The Detroit Lions are 6-2 so far this season and are in first place in the NFC North.

At one point last week they were so thin at defensive tackle that they had to give extensive play to rookie fifth-round draft choice Caraun Reid, he of Princeton.

The running game is still putrid and the quarterback still makes too many mistakes, but at 6-2 one can’t help but get excited by the Detroit Lions, surprising sole owners of first place in the NFC North.

Oh, we’ve seen this act before in Detroit. One need look back only a year to the Lions having a golden opportunity to steal an injury-ravaged division, a chance they squandered with authority down the stretch to the Packers and Bears.

But this isn’t the Jim Schwartz Era anymore. After a season of almost dead average defense, the Lions (and not the Seahawks or Niners or any of those more highly touted teams out west) have allowed the fewest points in the league (under 16 per game) under Jim Caldwell and that alone is enough to take notice.

Detroit has also find a nice more-than-complementary piece in Golden Tate, who could be on his way to the Pro Bowl with 55 catches for 800 yards, a total rapidly approaching what he achieved in a full season last year in Seattle. Team him with a healthy Calvin Johnson and the Lions have to wonder if they have the best wideout tandem in the league.

But getting back to that defense: it brings the heat (23 sacks), shuts down the run (four rushing touchdowns allowed all season), but still occasionally bends as illustrated by a 21-0 halftime deficit against the underachieving Falcons last week in London.

The difference between this year and last? To this point the Lions are resilient, grinding out the close ones, going 3-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, including wins by a combined total of three points against New Orleans and Atlanta the last two weeks.

This last one had all the makings of a 2013 redux when Detroit’s primary Achilles heal popped up in the final moments as Matt Prater missed a 43-yard attempt. But maybe the football gods have decided that this is Detroit’s year; a delay-of-game penalty gave Prater a second chance from 48, which he cashed in to give the Lions the surreal win.

Note that there hasn’t been very much of this out of the Motor City in our collective memory; the Lions have made the playoffs only once since 1999 and haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. Their last playoff win before that was 1983 and they haven’t won an NFL title since 1957, enough to make the Kansas City Royals look like a dynasty.

Under Stafford, the top pick overall in 2009, the news has been more bad than good (he owns a career 30-39 record) with plenty of false hope and underachievement. Looking ahead at a schedule that includes road games at Arizona, New England and Green Bay, it is still easy to imagine the Lions surrendering the division lead and maybe not making the playoffs at all.

But the Lions’ depth may not allow that to happen; seven defenders already have multiple sacks and Stafford his playing his best since 2011, when the Lions won 10 games and last made the playoffs.

That mark was achieved in spite of the defense allowing 30 points or more six times, a mark no one has achieved this year against Detroit. But then Motor City fans are used to holding their breath.

When you haven’t won in 57 years, that is the rule and not the exception.

Dashing Through the Snow, It’s Shady All the Way For the Eagles

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

LeSean McCoy had a record-setting performance in the snow against the Detroit Lions.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

LeSean McCoy had a record-setting performance in the snow against the Detroit Lions. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—In the midst of a blustery snowstorm at Lincoln Financial Field, Eagles running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy plowed his way through the Detroit Lions tough interior defense with a career-performance while helping the Birds to maintain a share of first-place in the NFC East.

McCoy rushed for a team-record 217 yards with four to six-inches of snow on the ground in the Eagles 34-20 win over the Detroit Lions. The Birds leading rusher broke Hall-of-Fame running back Steve Van Buren’s single-game team record of 205 yards set back in 1948 thanks to a pair of electrifying 40-yard-plus touchdown runs.

“I thought LeSean did an outstanding job,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “We’ve been trying to preach here just hitting things downhill. It was very tough, especially with this defense, to go lateral. I thought the job those three inside guys did was outstanding, Todd (Heremanns), Jason (Kelce) and Evan (Mathis) against two really good defensive tackles.

“Then we started changing up formationally some of the looks so they couldn’t chase us down a little bit from the backside.”

McCoy credited his offensive line for knocking Detroit defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley off the line of scrimmage and giving him some room to run in the second half.

“The guys up front gave me opportunities one-on-one by blowing those guys off the ball,” McCoy said. “I think everybody is so intimidated and scared of Detroit’s guys up front, but I thought the guys on my team took the challenge and stepped up. The whole week they talked about just running the ball and giving me some different matchups one-on-one.”

When asked about setting the team record, McCoy said he had seen films of Van Buren, who once gained 196 yards rushing in a snow storm during the 1948 NFL Championship game, and liked his running style.

“He’s definitely a hall of famer and one of the best backs to ever play this game, and he played here in Philadelphia,” McCoy said.  “It means a lot. I think records are meant to be broken, and it’s been standing for so long.  I actually watched some tape of him. He was pretty good and very dominant.”

Eagles center Jason Kelce said the focus of the offensive line’s game plan was to slow own Suh and Fairley. He said the inclement weather helped to slow those guys down.

“Those guys rely on such explosion and I think that slowed them down,” Kelce said. “Overall, going into the game we knew those were their two primary guys we need to take care of.”

The Eagles (8-5) are overcame a 14-0 third-quarter deficit thanks to the running of McCoy and the passing of quarterback Nick Foles, who despite throwing his first interception of the season, still had a solid performance in a snowstorm.

“I have never played in a game quite like that and obviously we did not play that well in the first half. Weather conditions aside we still have to go out there and execute,” Foles said.

It was Foles 19-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson late in the third quarter that gave the Birds their first touchdown of a game that seemed to be going nowhere fast.  Foles completed 11-of-22 passes 179 yards with one touchdown. He also scored on a one-yard run.

“But you know that is what I love about this team, we are going to face adversity but we are a tight-knit group …We are going to figure things out,” Foles said. “We are going to pop one and put some points on the board.”

For the game, the Eagles offense rolled up 478 yards— including 299 yards on the ground. The Birds won the game by scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter. Two of those touchdowns came on a pair of exciting runs by McCoy that tied that game and put the Eagles on top for good.

Early in the fourth quarter, McCoy took a handoff from Foles and sprinted 40 yards to the touchdown that cut the Lions lead to one. Backup running back Bryce Brown’s run on the two-point conversion evened the game at 14.

The turning point on that drive was a questionable roughing the passer call against Fairley on second and 10 from the Eagles 45. That moved the ball to the Lions 40. Two plays later, McCoy scored.

“We just have to play after that,” said Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. “That penalty doesn’t a score a touchdown.”

On the ensuing kickoff, Lions return specialist Jeremy Ross took to Alex Henery’s kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to give Detroit a 20-14 lead. Ross also had a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter.

It took the Eagles just three plays for McCoy’s 57-yard run that put them on top for good. Foles pass to wide receiver Riley Cooper on the two-point conversion made the score 22-20.

McCoy, who is known as a shifty runner with good lateral moves, was strictly North-South on Sunday, but still put on a few moves once he got into the secondary.

“People don’t know,” McCoy said at his locker after the game. “They see the moves I make, but I actually like to run between the tackles. It gives me so much leverage in terms of being able to go up the middle, bringing it outside or reversing it.”

The Birds closed the show on a one-yard quarterback sneak by Foles and a 38-yard run by Chris Polk.

The conditions on the field were so bad that the kicking game as means of scoring or for extra points was useless. The Eagles attempted two-point conversions instead of kicking. They were two out of four. When the Lions tried an extra point after a fourth-quarter touchdown, it was blocked. No field goals were attempted.

After Voided Trade, Ronnie Brown Hopes to Be a Contributor for the Eagles

Ronnie Brown believes that he can make a contribution with the Eagles.

by Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

Less than a week ago, Ronnie Brown was in Detroit learning the Lions playbook and making arrangements for his family to make the move to Michigan.

But in a stunning turn of events, the trade that sent him to the Motor City last week was voided because Jerome Harrison was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The voided trade was no doubt a blessing for him because it enabled him to get treatment for his condition.

“I don’t think if we ever came to that situation, they may not have found it soon it enough,” Brown said. “I was glad that he found about it and that’s one of the good parts about it and to get that taken care of is always good. I think everything happens for a reason. He was fortunate enough to find it in time and I heard the surgery went well.”

On the other hand, Brown, who saw Detroit as an opportunity to get more carries, it’s back to being third string running back behind Dion Lewis and merely hoping for a chance to get back on the field.

“I’m not one of those guys who’s going to sit around just because the money’s coming,” Brown said. “I want to contribute and when I feel like I can’t participate and play the game at a high level. I won’t play anymore.”

During Wednesday’s press conference, Eagles head coach Andy Reid was unclear on what Brown’s role would be moving forward.

“Listen, I think you need to have three good running backs in this league [and] I think we know that. And he’s a good running back  so that’s why we brought him here,” Reid said.

So far, Brown hasn’t touched the ball much this year with just 38 yards on 13 carries and fell behind Lewis on the depth chart after fumbling at the goal line in the loss to the San Francisco 49ers. With LeSean McCoy emerging as one of the best running backs in the league, Brown’s chance to be on the field during games is up in the air at best.

If anything else, Brown said he doesn’t mind sharing his insights and veteran experience as a running back to help McCoy and Lewis out during the course of a preparing for a game.

“Me being around for a few years now I have kind learned the ins and outs of how to recognize things as far as looking at guys in the secondary and looking at guy’s eyes, the stance of guys when you’re looking at film and seeing how guys have tendencies to give things away,” Brown said. “Hopefully, I can help them out in some aspects to help (McCoy) improve his game.”

And yet, Brown seems to have a good attitude and the proverbial “stiff upper lip” in what has to be an awkward, if not difficult situation after coming back from he was hoping to be a better opportunity.

“You let things go,” Brown said. “On this level when you dwell things, being a professional, it’s kind of like you’re holding yourself back . If I always sit back and think about what if or if I did something different, I’m not actually preparing myself for the future.”

While Brown is saying all the right things and seems to have the right frame of a mind, he wants to be on that field. After all, this is a guy who ran for 4,815 yards and scored 36 touchdowns during his six years with the Miami Dolphins. He is also the man who popularized the “Wildcat” formation.

“It’s not so much ego, it’s more or less the will and the want to get out there,” Brown said. “You’ve got used to being out there and participating, but you have to take a different road or different approach. That’s what’s different and you have to go through that adjustment process and that’s the difficult part coming from a starter to a guy who is playing a limited role.”