Missed batting call costs Lions in loss to Seahawks

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Kam Chancellor knocks the ball out of Calvin Johnson's hands before the goal line, causing a touchback instead of Detroit touchdown late in the fourth quarter.  Discussions started immediately after the game that K.J. Wright, left, punched the ball out of the end zone, which meant Detroit should have gotten the ball back instead of turning it over to Seattle. However, the officials missed the call.

Seattle — In a 13-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks Monday night, the Lions received several reminders that football is indeed a game of inches.

Calvin Johnson was inches away from scoring a go-ahead, 11-yard touchdown for the Lions with less than 2 minutes remaining. Had Seattle safety Kam Chancellor missed his target while punching the ball free from Johnson, the Lions would've scored.

And if the back judge moved his hand a few inches to grab the yellow flag on his waist, the Lions would've had more opportunities to win the game.

Instead, Johnson lost a fumble, Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright illegally hit the ball out of the end zone without a penalty and the Lions fell to 0-4 in front of a franchise-record 69,005 people at CenturyLink Field.

BOX SCORE: Seahawks 13, Lions 10

But, the game's ending certainly won't end the debate over how much the officials cost the Lions a victory. The team, though, was in no mood to use the missed call as an excuse.

"What can you do, you know what I mean?" coach Jim Caldwell said. "You're not going to cry about it, that's for sure. So, we've just got to tee it up and go at it again."

"At the end of the day," Johnson said, "you've just really got to hold onto the ball. Enough said after that."

Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, did plenty of talking after the game, but his admission of the missed call is merely lip service for the Lions.

“You can’t bat the ball in any direction in the end zone, either end zone,” Blandino said on NFL Network shortly after the game. “So, K.J. Wright batted the football; that is a foul for an illegal bat.”

Blandino explained that the batting was a judgment call up to back judge Greg Wilson, who had a clear look at Wright — who admitted to pushing the ball out — as the player tapped the ball out of the back of the end zone. However, Wilson decided Wright's move was not overt, and because the issue was an uncalled penalty, the call was not reviewable.

“It’s a foul, we have to make that call,” Blandino said.

In theory, if the flag falls, the Lions would've had the ball inside the 1-yard line, with a first down and 1:45 remaining.

Instead, the Seahawks took over, converted one first down and ran out the clock, forcing a Lions drive that went nearly 90½ yards to be for naught.

"Coming down the stretch, you want the ball in your playmakers' hands," said Lions safety James Ihedigbo, who led a tremendous defensive effort. "You give Calvin and (Golden Tate) touches going down the stretch; you have a 90-yard drive to win the game. That's the Detroit Lions. That's us. That's the team that we were last year; that's the team that we are.

"For it to end the way it did, it's tough. And it's absolutely no one's fault. It was just a heck of a play by them."

Ultimately, the Lions didn't play well enough to win, and they didn't hide from that fact. The offense gained just 256 yards and was 3-for-13 on third downs, and the Lions have now failed to lead at any point in their last three games. They're the last team in the NFL without a victory; the Bears, Saints and Ravens all won this week.

Besides a few ill-timed errors, the Lions defense had an excellent effort with six sacks — including two by defensive end Ezekiel Ansah — and three fumble recoveries, the first time the team has done that since 2004. The Lions' only touchdown came on a 27-yard fumble return by defensive tackle Caraun Reid in the fourth quarter.

"We put on a show," Ihedigbo said of the Lions' defense. "We gave the people what they wanted to see. They wanted to see what a top defense looks like and that's what we played like."

Even more impressive, the Lions managed their strong defensive effort without starting defensive tackles Tyrunn Walker (broken leg) and Haloti Ngata (calf) for much of the second half.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford was 24 of 35 for 203 yards and missed an open Johnson a couple times over the course of the game. Johnson finished with seven catches for 56 yards, but the fumble will be the lasting memory.

In his first game against his former team, Lions receiver Golden Tate had just 29 yards on three catches, most of which came on a 22-yard gain on the final drive. The Lions spent the second half playing without top tight end Eric Ebron, who suffered a knee injury in the second quarter.

For the Seahawks, quarterback Russell Wilson was an efficient 20 of 26 for 287 yards and one touchdown, and he added 10 carries for 40 yards. He also lost two fumbles.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Lions appeared to have the Seahawks stopped on a third-and-12 in Seattle territory as defensive end Jason Jones looked to have an easy sack.

Instead, Wilson slipped out of Jones' grasp, evaded the diving Ansah, and threw to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse for a 34-yard gain. On the next play, Wilson hit receiver Doug Baldwin for a 24-yard touchdown, giving the Seahawks a 7-0 lead with 10:56 left in the second quarter.

The Lions responded with their best drive of the first half, but after reaching the Seattle 23, two incomplete passes forced the Lions to settle for a field goal, a 41-yard make by Matt Prater that made it 7-3 with 5:16 left in the first half.

The Seahawks continued moving on their next drive as three plays of at least 15 yards helped them reach the Detroit 9, but the Lions' defense thrived with its back against the wall. On first-and-goal, Ansah sacked Wilson for a 9-yard loss, and a false start on second down pushed the Seahawks back further. On third-and-goal from the 22, Jones and Devin Taylor sacked Wilson.

The negative plays weren't enough to keep the Seahawks from scoring as Steven Hauschka made a 51-yard field goal to give them a 10-3 lead with a minute left in the half.

The Seahawks' offense carried its momentum into the third quarter as Wilson again made some dazzling plays. As they did late in the second quarter, though, the Lions defense made some plays after Seattle crossed midfield to force a field goal. Hauschka's 52-yard attempt was good, extending the Seahawks' lead to 13-3 with 11:11 left in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, a Lions offense that gained just 129 yards in the first half continued to struggle, gaining just 26 yards and failing to convert a third down — though one first down was wiped out by a penalty — in the third quarter.

The defense bailed out the offense in the fourth quarter. On a third-and-4, Ihedigbo forced a fumble by Wilson, and Reid grabbed the ball and returned it for a 27-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 13-10 with 8:32 left.

On the next drive, the Lions forced a three-and-out as Ihedigbo sniffed out a third-down run, and their opportunity to take the lead began at their own 9-yard line, after returner TJ Jones muffed the punt and had to return it from the end zone.

Finally, with 6:23 remaining, the offense moved the ball effectively. On third-and-6, Stafford hit Tate for a short pass he turned into a 22-yard gain. After three more positive plays, Stafford threw a beautiful pass to tight end Tim Wright for a 26-yard gain that moved the Lions into the red zone for the first time with less than 3 minutes remaining.

After two runs by Zach Zenner totaling 9 yards, Johnson appeared about to score on his catch and run, but Chancellor forced a fumble to turn it into a touchback and essentially sealed the Seahawks' victory with 1:45 remaining.

"It's not devastating," Caldwell said. "It's not life or death. … It's disappointing, but what we have to do is get refocused, lick our wounds, our heads bloodied but unbowed and we've just got to tee it up again and go after it."

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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