November 22, 2012 at 1:00 am

Chris McCosky

Chris McCosky's Four Downs: Challenge rule needs to be modified


First down

It's what they call an unforeseen consequence. The NFL decided to penalize coaches for throwing a challenge flag on turnovers and scores — plays that are automatically reviewed — for two reasons: To avoid delay of games and to prevent coaches from trying to show up referees.

What they didn't factor in is the natural emotion of moments like the one Thursday, when Lions coach Jim Schwartz's toss of the challenge flag ultimately cost his team a touchdown.

Schwartz knew the rule, but he threw that flag with his heart, not his head. Texans running back Justin Forsett was clearly down — his knee and elbow were on the ground — but he was allowed to get up and run 81 yards for a pivotal touchdown.

"I was so mad they didn't call him down," Schwartz said. "He was obviously down on the field. I had the flag out of my pocket before he even scored the touchdown."

Schwartz knows he blew it and he made no excuses. He told the team on the field the mistake was on him. He wasn't asking anybody for forgiveness.

"No excuses," he said. "You don't challenge turnovers and scores."

He got no sympathy from Texans coach Gary Kubiak.

"Rules are rules," he said when asked if the rule should be changed. "I know one thing, you've got to keep your flag tucked in your pocket. That's all I know. That's what you're supposed to do."

Still, the rule needs to be modified. Schwartz wasn't trying to delay the game, nor was he trying to provoke the official. He just wanted the play to be called correctly. Referees should have the discretion to allow coaches a little time to pick the flag up once they realize their mistake.

"The idea with replay is to get the call right," he said. "Obviously that didn't happen."

Second down

Schwartz was already in bad humor before that play. He had challenged another ruling in the first quarter when Nick Harris' punt appeared to glance off Texans player Glover Quin. The Lions' Erik Coleman recovered it, but officials ruled it wasn't a fumble.

"I was still smarting over that first challenge that wasn't overturned," Schwartz said. "It was pretty obvious it hit the guy and we didn't get the ball. We seemed to be behind a lot of those calls today."

One possible explanation was the ball hit Ashlee Palmer of the Lions first. Replays showed it may have deflected off his hand. Schwartz said that wasn't what officials saw.

"He just said they didn't think it hit the guy," he said. "They didn't say it hit our guy first."

Third down

Schwartz said he didn't see it. Kyle Vanden Bosch didn't see it. Ndamukong Suh did it, but he wasn't talking about it, or anything else afterward.

But you can bet NFL headquarters saw it and will probably send some punitive action Suh's way.

In the first quarter, Suh appeared to kick Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin area. There is some question about intent.

Suh was being flipped by right tackle Derek Newton on the play. It did appear, though, that Suh made the kick with a second movement, a split second after he was flipped.

There is no doubt Schaub thought it was intentional. There is also no doubt Suh will say it wasn't.

What will weaken Suh's case is his history. He is a multiple repeat offender. It was just last Thanksgiving that he earned his two-game suspension with an on-field stomp of a Packers lineman. His past indiscretions will most likely work against him here.

Expect him to be fined, at the least.

Fourth down

The nightmare continues for Brandon Pettigrew.

In the overtime loss at Tennessee, he had a pass ripped out of his hands and returned for a touchdown. On Thursday, as the Lions were driving for a potential winning score against the Texans in overtime, he again had the ball ripped from his hands.

"He's a strong guy and he keeps on running," Schwartz said of the play. "You still have to secure the ball. That was very costly."

Pettigrew had eight catches for 74 yards, but he had several others bounce off his hands. It's been a season-long struggle for him.

"He played a helluva game," fellow tight end Tony Scheffler said. "He really fought out there and played hard. He has been fighting through some things this year and it's been tough. But the guy is a warrior.

"You can't take anything away from that play. The guy (Texans' Danieal Manning) made a good play on the ball. That could've happened to anyone."

Twitter: @cmccosky

Lions coach Jim Schwartz, right, throws out the challenge flag in the first quarter. The ruling on the field, as to whether the ball hit a Texans player on a kickoff before the Lions recovered the ball, remained in favor of the Texans. / Robin Buckson/Detroit News
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