SHOWDOWN AT LAMBEAU
Romo-Rodgers could be a shootout
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.