FAQ: Explaining the Detroit Lions' final play vs. the Atlanta Falcons
The Detroit Lions lost a heart-breaker to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, 30-26, when officials overturned a touchdown catch by Golden Tate with 8 seconds to play and, by rule, ran the remaining time off the clock.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said that Tate was short of the end zone and that officials administered the run-off correctly. Still, the loss was a tough one to swallow for a Lions team that just missed out on upsetting the defending NFC champions.
Mitch Albom: Detroit Lions lose in new way but it tastes just as bitter
Detroit Lions 3 questions: They were cheated against Atlanta Falcons
The Detroit Lions lose after a controversial call vs. Atlanta Falcons
Here's what happened:
The Lions started their final offensive play, a Matthew Stafford pass to Tate, with 12 seconds on the clock. Tate ran a drag across the goal line, behind a pick route by Kenny Golladay, but Falcons cornerback Brian Poole came off Golladay and touched Tate on the back of his shoulder as Tate went to the ground to make the catch.
Officials initially signaled a touchdown on the play, but the call was overturned on review and the ball was spotted just shy of the goal line.
Was the call correct?
"Yes," Caldwell said. Replays showed conclusively that Tate's left knee was down before the ball broke the goal line.
So why didn't the Lions get the ball inside the 1-yard line with 8 or 9 seconds on the clock?
Let Jim Caldwell explain: "Since they ruled it a touchdown in that particular situation and ruled it incorrectly and the ball was indeed short, so he was ruled down. So what happens in that situation is that if you don’t have a timeout left, you’re going to get a 10-second runoff. If you have a timeout left, you can prevent that runoff at the end of the game and give up that timeout. But without any timeouts, they ran off the time on the clock, which was 8 seconds remaining, and game’s over."
Why didn't the Lions have any timeouts left at that time?
The Lions used all three of their second-half timeouts to stop the clock on the Falcons' previous drive. Atlanta began its final possession with 2:52 on the clock. The Lions used their first timeout after a 1-yard run by Devonta Freeman with 2:48 to play, their second after a short pass to Mo Sanu with 2:44 left, and their last after a pass to Julio Jones with 2:31 to play. They had to stop the clock on defense to conserve time for their offense.
Detroit Lions TE Eric Ebron after dropped passes: 'I played crappy'
Mitch Albom: NFL stands against President Trump as comments spark rage
Doesn't the runoff unduly penalize the Lions even though it was an officiating mistake that caused the clock to stop?
You certainly can make an argument that's the case. Had officials marked Tate down initially and the booth not called for a review, the Lions would have had fourth-and-goal inside the 1 with 8 or 9 seconds on the clock.
"You can kind of look at it that way if you want, but they ruled it correctly," Caldwell said. "They ruled it correctly and that’s the way it is."
Would the Lions even have been able to get a play off with that little time on the clock?
Caldwell said, "Certainly. We practice it all the time." Stafford said he's not sure. But Falcons safety Keanu Neal said he believes the Lions would have got another play off. "Yeah, they'd be able to get a play off. I think so," Neal said.
Last thing, does the rule requiring a clock runoff in that type of situation need to be changed?
The Lions have certainly done their part to change or clarify the NFL rule book in the past, from Calvin Johnson's "process of the catch" to Jim Schwartz and his challenge flag. Caldwell, though, said he does not believe the rule needs to be changed.
"I don't think so," Caldwell said. "It's tough to digest all that right now in terms of how it works. We all kind of know exactly what the situation could and would be, and in hindsight we can complain all we want but they administered the rule exactly the way that it's written."
Detroit Lions stock watch: Eric Ebron, Ziggy Ansah get thumbs down
Black Army veteran honored by Detroit Lions, salutes during national anthem
Contact Dave Birkett: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!