SHOW­DOWN AT LAM­BEAU

Romo-Rodgers could be a shootout

Packer Plus - - Front Page - By TOM SIL­VER­STEIN tsil­ver­stein@jour­nalsen­tinel.com

Ar­ling­ton, Texas — The Detroit Lions were so close to the NFC di­vi­sional play­off round they could see Puget Sound.

But in­stead of head­ing to Seat­tle, the Lions are head­ing home.

They de­serve plenty of the blame, but the com­bi­na­tion of an un­wa­ver­ing Dal­las Cow­boys team and a cou­ple of ques­tion­able penalty calls proved to be the im­pe­tus for them fall­ing off the edge in a game they should have won.

The Lions blew a 14-point first-half lead and fell, 24-20, to the Cow­boys in front of a crowd of 91,410 at AT&T Sta­dium.

“Hon­estly, I just didn’t ex­pect this,” Lions de­fen­sive tackle Ndamukong Suh said be­fore run­ning off the podium with tears in his eyes, only to re­turn a few min­utes later.

“I apol­o­gize. I’m speech­less. I feel like we played as hard as we could. We put it all out there. I just didn’t ex­pect this out­come. It’s sick­en­ing.”

On another day, against another team, the Lions might have punched their ticket to the di­vi­sional round, where as the No. 6 seed they would have played at Seat­tle.

But the Cow­boys took ad­van­tage of their ev­ery mis­take and ev­ery bit of their own good for­tune to knock the Lions out of the play­offs. After trail­ing 17-7 at half­time, the Cow­boys dom­i­nat-

ed in the sec­ond half, and be­hind quar­ter­back Tony Romo punc­tured the Lions’ chances with a late touch­down drive.

“When your sea­son is on the line, I think it is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than through­out the year, even though ev­ery game is as im­por­tant as it is,” Romo said. “I think when you get in the play­offs, to have that men­tal­ity; it shows your foot­ball team that you trust them.

“I think it shows who you want to ride with.”

The Cow­boys (13-4) ad­vance to the di­vi­sional round where they will face the Green Bay Pack­ers Sun­day at Lam­beau Field. In the other game, the Carolina Pan­thers will travel to Seat­tle to play the Sea­hawks.

After a half in which the Lions did ev­ery­thing right de­fen­sively, bounc­ing back from a sub­par per­for­mance against Green Bay the week be­fore, Dal­las ad­justed and Romo, with the help of re­ceiver Ter­rance Wil­liams, took over.

Romo, who was sacked three times in the first half and had thrown for just 73 yards un­til the fi­nal two min­utes, fin­ished the game 19 of 31 for 293 yards and two touch­downs. De­spite get­ting knocked to the ground 10 times, Romo had enough left in him to dance around the pocket and find Wil­liams for an 8-yard touch­down pass with 2 min­utes 32 seconds left in the game.

It gave the Cow­boys their first lead and de­mor­al­ized a Lions team that couldn’t do much of any­thing right in the sec­ond half. Even when things did go right, they wound up go­ing wrong.

The big­gest blow to their hopes came with 8:25 left in the fourth quar­ter. Ahead, 20-17, and fac­ing a third and 1 at the Dal­las 46, quar­ter­back Matthew Stafford threw to tight end Bran­don Pet­ti­grew just inside the 30yard line.

Cow­boys line­backer An­thony Hitchens had his back to Stafford and with his arms raised ap­peared to run into Pet­ti­grew. A flag came fly­ing from back judge Lee Dyer and ref­eree Pete Morelli quickly an­nounced to the crowd that the call was de­fen­sive pass in­ter­fer­ence.

But in came head lines­man Jerry Bergman, who told Morelli it was not a penalty. And after dis­cus­sion with both of­fi­cials, Morelli an­nounced that there was no foul.

“The back judge threw his flag for de­fen­sive pass in­ter­fer­ence,” Morelli told a pool re­porter after the game. “We got other in­for­ma­tion from another of­fi­cial from a dif­fer­ent an­gle that thought the con­tact was min­i­mal and didn’t war­rant pass in­ter­fer­ence. He thought it was face guard­ing.”

Turns out, how­ever, there is no such thing as face guard­ing in the NFL.

“It is a penalty in col­lege, but not in pro­fes­sional foot­ball,” Morelli said.

The Lions tried to draw the Cow­boys off­side on fourth and 1, but it didn’t work and they wound up punt­ing after tak­ing a de­lay of game penalty.

“Not good enough,” Lions coach Jim Cald­well said when asked what ex­pla­na­tion he got from Morelli. “I’m go­ing to leave it at that.”

As Cald­well pointed out, how­ever, the Lions still had their chances.

Stafford played a ter­rific game, com­plet­ing 28 of 42 passes for 323 yards and a touch­down. His only in­ter­cep­tion did not lead to any Cow­boys points and when he was sacked on the Lions’ fi­nal play of the game, it was the re­sult of left tackle Ri­ley Reiff whiff­ing on a block on rookie end DeMar­cus Lawrence.

Ear­lier in the drive, Lawrence had scooped up a Stafford fum­ble only to fum­ble it him­self and al­low the Lions to re­cover and start over on downs.

“I knew I had to go out there and make a play,” Lawrence said.

In a game of plays that mat­tered, this one mat­tered the most for the de­fense and it sent a dis­be­liev­ing group of Lions home. The Cow­boys, how­ever, march on.

Dal­las Cow­boys quar­ter­back Tony Romo cel­e­brates a touch­down against the Detroit Lions on Sun­day. The Cow­boys won the NFC wild-card play­off game, 24-20.

Romo, who is en­joy­ing his finest sea­son as a pro, cel­e­brates the Cow­boys’ play­off vic­tory over the Lions. The Pack­ers are up next.

Cow­boys line­backer An­thony Hitchens gets hit in the back by a pass to Lions tight end Bran­don Pet­ti­grew in the fourth quar­ter. The of­fi­cials picked up the flag.

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