Don't Blame the Referees for the Packers Win Over the Lions

In the wake of the greatest Hail Mary touchdown pass in NFL history, thrown by Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, critics of NFL referees hope to use the previous play as a reason to expand the use of instant reply. They might have a point, but the blame for the penalty and outcome of the game rest solely with the Detroit Lions themselves.

In the epic Thursday night battle between Green Bay and Detroit, the Packers were down 20-0 at one point. The launched a furious comeback to pull within a two-point margin, 23-21. But with only time for one play, and no timeouts, the Green Bay Packers threw a pass, and several laterals. The ball eventually came back to QB Aaron Rodgers, who was tackled by Devin Taylor of the Lions, and a teammate of Taylor's. The game should have been over.

But it wasn't, because Taylor's hand brushed Rodgers' facemask. The play initially looked more egregious, because Rodgers's head whipped around sideways and his chin strip went over his face. But that's because Taylor pulled him down by the shoulder pads and collar. Nevertheless, a flag was thrown. On the next play, the "Miracle in Motown" ensued, with Rodgers throwing a Hail Mary pass caught by teammate Tight End Richard Rodgers Jr. in the End Zone. Green Bay won 27-23.

Instantly, critics of the NFL referees rushed to the blogosphere to make the argument that the refs "blew the call," and that the play should have been reviewed. Believing the call would be overturned, they crowed about how the Lions should have won the game.

But the call wasn't blown.

For the call to be blown, Taylor would have to have not touched Rodgers' facemask at all. And that's not the case. All critics can legitimately say is that "he didn't touch it that much."

The NFL rules are pretty clear. You're not supposed to be touching the facemask at all. There's a reason for that, as safety is clearly paramount in the NFL. Nobody wants a neck injury. I think the penalty should have been an incidental facemask (5 yards) and not a personal foul (15 yards), but a penalty is a penalty, and Rodgers would have still had a chance for his epic throw.

It comes down to a poor decision by Taylor, and poor coaching for whoever on the Lions taught him to tackle. With the game on the line, you never go for the head. Taylor's teammate already had Rodgers wrapped up below. Why would you even think of having your hands anywhere near someone's facemask or head? It's because that's how the Lions are taught to play. This is still the team of Suh's personal fouls.

Moreover, the Lions compounded their error by having the worst defensive scheme ever for a Hail Mary. They had players in the middle of the field doing nothing. They didn't bring in their talented wide receivers like Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate to help. All of the Lions defensive backs played behind the Packers receivers. If Richard Rodgers Jr. didn't catch the ball, his teammate Devante Adams was in the second best position to catch the ball.

Again and again, critics of the NFL are just beating down the referees. But according to research published by Thomas Barrabi for Fox Business, NFL referees are getting 96 percent of the calls right, the same average it has been over the last five years. The officiating is not getting worse.

Sure a few extra reviews couldn't hurt, but stop blaming the referees for game outcomes. They made the correct call, and Aaron Rodgers made the legitimate heroic touchdown throw. And the Detroit Lions need some new coaches and players, for blowing a 20 point lead at home, with boneheaded penalties and defensive schemes.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.