November 21, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Mike O'Hara

Officials' 'hair pull' penalty on Lions was wrong

Coach Jim Schwartz was furious after a horse-collar tackle penalty was called on Ndamukong Suh in the fourth quarter. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

If you thought you'd seen it all from the losing Lions, you were wrong. There's always more.

They added the "Hair Pull" penalty to their losing legacy in Sunday's 35-19 road loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

The "Hair Pull" -- a tackle by Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on Cowboys running back Marion Barber in the fourth quarter -- came at a crucial point and might have tipped the balance and momentum too far in the Cowboys' favor for the Lions to recover.

The Hair Pull is sure to make every sports-show highlight reel. It surpassed such mundane miscues as penalties, turnovers, breakdowns on the offensive line and special teams, missed tackles, bad tackles and no tackles that contribute to the Lions' unprecedented losing.

The Hair Pull is the No. 1 issue in this week's burning questions.

Q. What happened on the play?

A. On second-and-goal at the Lions' 13, Suh grabbed Barber by his hair, which hangs a least a foot out of his helmet, and tackled him after a 2-yard gain.

A penalty flag was thrown, and referee Carl Cheffers flagged Suh for a horse-collar tackle. The Cowboys got an automatic first down at the five instead of third-and-goal at the 11.

Q. Was it the right call?

A. No. On a horse-collar tackle, a player is dragged down by inside the neck of the jersey or the top of the shoulder pads. Lions coach Jim Schwartz was enraged, and the Fox network broadcast team reacted immediately.

"That's a bad call," said color analyst Daryl Johnston, a former Cowboys fullback. "Jim Schwartz has every right to be upset."

Q. Mike Pereira, the NFL's former vice-president of officiating, is Fox'sexpert analyst on officiating. What was his opinion?

A. "That's a legal tackle," Pereira said. "You can pull a guy down by the hair. If they're going to wear their hair out, it's understood (that a player can be tackled by the hair).

"That is a legal play to grab hair and pull down by the hair. That really should not have been a horse collar (call)."

Q. How important was the call?

A. It made a big difference in strategy. If the Lions held on third-and-11, the Cowboys would have settled for a field goal and a 24-19 lead with 11:15 left instead of leading 28-19 with the touchdown.

That's assuming the Lions didn't jump offside a couple times, hit the quarterback late, miss a tackle or simply bust another defensive assignment.

Actually, they do all those things regularly. So maybe it didn't make any difference.

Anyway, next time Marion Barber should see a barber.

Q. The Lions had double-digit penalties again -- 10 for 76 yards. Are more penalties called against them because of their reputation?

A. Probably not, but if there are, the way to stop it is by being more disciplined. "Until you fix that, you're going to have calls like that go against you," Johnston said.

Q. Another big play was Bryan McCann's 97-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter to give the Cowboys a 14-12 lead. Replays showed McCann had one heel out of bounds after crossing midfield.

Was Schwartz wrong in not challenging the play?

You can't blame Schwartz or his staff for what they couldn't see. The Cowboys didn't replay the return on their stadium video boards, and it didn't show up on the Fox telecast until long after the play was over.

"If it's close, we'll feel like we can do it," Schwartz said about challenging in his post-game radio interview. "We need some kind of evidence. We didn't have any look at that play."

Q. On the play, John Wendling did a great job -- again -- of hitting the ball to down it at the 3-yard line. Did McCann catch the rest of the coverage team napping when he grabbed the ball and started running?

A. It looked that way. Once a member of the punting team touches the ball, the return man has no risk of losing it on a fumble. It was a smart play by McCann, a rookie who has played in only three NFL games. He outsmarted the entire coverage team.

Q. Shaun Hill started at quarterback for the second straight game in his return from a broken left forearm. He was still in the game with 1:03 left. Was it smart to expose Hill and his recovering left forearm to any risk, however slight, with the next game on Thursday?

A. No. With 1:03 left for the last possession, Schwartz should have had Drew Stanton at quarterback. The risk of Hill getting hurt was too great, even if it was less than 1 percent.