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Allen Park — If a crucial play might have gone a little differently in the Lions’ collapse in Cincinnati on Sunday, the Lions still could be in the playoff hunt.

Down 19-17 with about four minutes left and facing a third-and-28 at their own 7-yard line, quarterback Matthew Stafford flung a deep pass to receiver Golden Tate that appeared to be pulled out of his hands by two Bengals defenders. Replays showed that Tate might have had possession of the ball, but the Lions coaching staff decided not to challenge the ruling of an incomplete pass in order to conserve a timeout.

The Bengals iced the game — and the Lions’ season — with a touchdown on the ensuing possession.

“At first, to me, I thought it was incomplete,” Tate told assembled media members after practice on Wednesday.

“I’d feel real bad if I told them (the coaches) to throw the (challenge) flag and ended up being wrong.”

But once Tate saw replays of the catch after the game, he wasn’t so sure.

“I didn’t even think much about it until after the game. I saw the replay and I was like, oh, it was so close. It could have been called either way. It depends on who was being the judge of it,” Tate said.

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What constitutes a catch in the NFL has become of hot topic of late, especially after an apparent touchdown by Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James was ruled incomplete against the New England Patriots in a marquee matchup.

“I thought he caught it and reached out which was an athletic move, then the ball hit the ground,” Tate said of the play in the Steelers-Patriots game. “He clearly caught it, and he was reaching for the goal line. What do you call there? To me, that’s an athletic move, but because of the time sequence and how fast it happened and everything else, it’s up in the air.”

The catch rule has gotten increasingly complex since the introduction of replay, and Tate feels subjectivity has crept into the cracks that each new rule clarification leaves.

“I think the rule should be more objective. They should have a set of rules where if it meets that criteria, it’s a catch. It’s too much of a judgment call. It depends on which guys (referees) you get stuck with. This is a tough job that the officials have. These guys have to watch multiple things and catch it as good as they can. There’s going to be human error, for sure,” Tate said.

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Criteria for a catch gets stricter each year, making it harder for receivers to convince the referees and replay officials that they successfully reeled in a reception.

“I think what’s different is the reviewing process,” Tate said. “How long has it been that every single play is reviewed? Right now our game is really detailed and everything is looked over because of everything that happened in the past. It’s kind of becoming that way in all sports. It’s slowing up the game for sure, but someone’s going to be unhappy. Someone’s going to get that unfortunate call. Someone’s going to be on the wrong side. I wouldn’t want that job.”

In Week 3, Tate was involved in the most controversial call of the Lions’ season when it appeared he had lunged into the end zone after making a catch against the Atlanta Falcons, but later was ruled down at the one-yard line. The sequence triggered a 10-second runoff that ended the Lions’ chances of winning the game.

“A lot of people at the time thought it wouldn’t matter. In my mind, being on my eighth year I‘ve seen how games come back to haunt you. I thought about it like, man, I hope this doesn’t come back and haunt us, and sure enough, going into the last week, teams that are ahead of us in head to head races, Atlanta, the Saints, Carolina, all in the same division, those are the ones that are either in or in the hunt,” Tate said.

Many solutions for simplifying the catch rule and replay have been thrown around, but Tate’s not sure exactly what a good rule would be.

“I haven’t thought about it in detail, but if you look at some of these catches in slow-mo, you probably can go either way. I hope our PA (player’s association) and our reps and the officiating crew can come up with something that’s clearer,” Tate said.

Lions fans always have felt like they get the short end of the stick when it comes to officiating and replays, and Tate agrees with them. Tate wouldn’t be in favor of fewer replays at the cost of some blown calls.

“You’ve got to review them because being in Detroit, there have been some calls that are complete B.S. that simply always work against us. It’s unfortunate,” Tate said.

“Right now, who knows what a catch is anymore.”

Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.

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