Fourth quarter, 3rd-and-1, eight-minutes-and-change to go, Lions ball, Lions lead.

Matthew Stafford drops back, throws to Brandon Pettigrew, ball bounces off Anthony Hitchens.


A pass interference penalty is called. Yardage is walked off.

Then it isn’t. The call is reversed.

What the heck happened on the play that many say led to the Cowboys’ 24-20 win over the Lions on Sunday?

“(Initially), I thought (it) was a very lucky play by Hitchens and an unfortunate one for Pettigrew,” former NFL official and current CBS rules expert Mike Carey said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “And then when I saw the flag come out, I was disappointed, to tell you the truth. And then I was just elated when they picked it up. Now the process was a little disjunctive, but you’ve got to hand it to the head lineman, Jerry Bergman, for stepping up in a very tough situation and taking control of the call. There was not enough there for a pass interference.”

But Hitchens didn’t have his head turned around and wasn’t playing the ball. What is the rule for face-guarding with your hands in the air?

“Great opportunity to really clear this up,” Carey said. “There is no foul for not playing the ball, and there’s no relief from a foul if your head is turned around. The only governing point is you may not restrict a receiver from the ability to catch a pass, and that has to be physical contact that is visibly evident that restricts the receiver from catching the pass (or) interferes with his opportunity (to catch the pass). There’s no foul for distraction.”

On this particular play, Stafford’s throw was short of his intended target, and Pettigrew – whose momentum was carrying him toward the end zone – was unable to reverse gears and come back and try to make the catch. Is that why nothing was called?

“Absolutely, you hit it right on the head,” Carey said. “Both the bodies were going in motion away from the pass, and so there was no restriction. Had Pettigrew put his foot in the ground and come back – (or) even (initiated) coming back – (it) would have caused a defensive pass interference because the defender was not playing the ball and (would have) impeded his ability to catch the pass.”

All right, but the flag was on ground, the call was announced and then it was reversed. What should have happened here, and what didn’t happen here?

“Well, what should happen is that once the flag hits, as an official, you’re trying to get multiple angles of two eyes on the play,” Carey said. “So you have the side judge, who’s looking from top-to-underneath, the head linesman who’s looking from underneath-to-the-top, and you have the back judge, who’s looking from the inside-out. And so it really brackets it. And so if anybody has any information that is to the contrary of the calling official, it’s imperative that they get there as soon as they can (and) discuss it and come up with a resolution – and that just got a little out of sequence.”

Doug Gottlieb asked Carey, who officiated in the NFL for 24 years, whether he’s ever seen anything like this: a flag thrown, a penalty announced and the yardage walked off – only to be overturned.

“I can’t recall that happening,” Carey said. “But remember, the most important thing is to get this play right, and as long as you do it before the next snap, it doesn’t matter to me when the information comes. Of course, you’d like it to be much more smooth from an administrative standpoint, but the whole idea is these guys put a whole year’s worth of work in to try to get to the next playoff game, and our job as officials is to make sure that we don’t get in the way of having that happen and we get whatever the action on the field is, correct. And they got the action on the field correct. That’s all that should really matter.”


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