Joe Buck rehashes 'strange' Lions' playoff loss

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Fox play-by-play man Joe Buck "completely" agreed that the picked-up pass interference penalty in the Lions' playoff loss to the Cowboys was the strangest call he's ever seen since he began working MLB and NFL games in the early 1990s.

The only call rivaling the one from January, Buck said, was the infamous "Fail Mary" from Week 3 in 2012 when the replacement referees filling in for the locked-out officials credited then-Seahawks receiver Golden Tate with a game-winning touchdown as time expired on a play that should've been a game-sealing interception by the Packers.

"But those were different circumstances," Buck said before the NFL Honors ceremony at Phoenix's Symphony Hall on Jan. 31. "Those were guys that shouldn't have been calling games in the NFL. This is postseason, guys who grade out the highest at their spot. You've seen guys miss calls in Major League Baseball — a play at the plate, a guy leaving third too soon before a tag — but nothing that really jumps out at least in my mind as strange as that one."

The Lions lost their wild-card round matchup in Dallas in devastating fashion, 24-20. The initial call of pass interference on Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens against tight end Brandon Pettigrew would've given the Lions, who led 20-17, a first down at the Dallas 29 with 8:25 left in the fourth quarter.

After announcing and marking off the penalty, though, referee Pete Morelli said there was no foul, leaving the Lions with fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 46. The Lions punted, and on the ensuing drive, Dallas marched to the game-winning touchdown with 2:32 remaining.

Some Lions players and general manager Martin Mayhew were realistic after the fact, saying they had plenty of time left to win the game after the odd call. A week later, other players reveled in the manner in which the Cowboys lost to the Packers with a late catch by Dez Bryant overturned by the "Calvin Johnson rule."

Buck and color commentator Troy Aikman were on the call for FOX in the wild-card matchup, and FOX analyst Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice president of officiating, was stunned by what unfolded with the Lions and Cowboys.

"Like you couldn't believe the chain of events and really the timing of it," Buck said. "I think the timing of it was as bad and as off as the call itself because I'm sitting up there with Mike Pereira. And if you can shock Mike Pereira with a call, then something is really wrong.

"It wasn't just that there was an obvious grab, that there was face-guarding and contact, but that they picked the flag and there was no real explanation and it happened as late as it did, it was just a strange sequence of events. And I know this, when I look down to my left and Mike Pereira's got his palms up like, 'I have no idea,' and then he later said, 'I've never seen a flag picked up that late,' well then that's saying a lot more than I can say because that's his area of expertise."

Following the problematic call, the Lions proposed expanded replay to the NFL's competition committee, hoping that penalties can soon be reviewed.

Buck said he'd like to see the NFL shift toward a review process similar to the one used in the NCAA's FBS where most questionable calls are reviewed by the booth, though that wouldn't have helped the Lions in this instance.