Four downs: More baffling officials calls to debate

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

First down: As has been the case far too often this year, the officiating was a major talking point after the Lions’ game Monday night.

And as was the case in the postseason in Dallas, referee Pete Morelli had to field questions from a pool reporter after a game that featured some odd calls.

The strangest issue with the officiating came when safety James Ihedigbo called a timeout late in the second quarter when the Lions didn’t have one.

By rule, the officials should’ve ignored Ihedigbo’s call, but they stopped play. There’s no penalty for the infraction unless the excess time out comes when a team tries to freeze the kicker.

“The timeout was granted inadvertently on that play,” Morelli said after the game. “We stopped the clock. The whistle was blown.”

After the error, the Lions stopped the Saints on a fourth down at the 1, thanks in part to a New Orleans penalty, completing a goal-line stand that featured two reversed touchdowns.

Second down: While that officiating problem didn’t hurt the Lions, another questionable call went against them.

Coach Jim Caldwell challenged two plays in the game. The first one looked like a poor choice as Saints receiver Willie Snead clearly caught a pass before fumbling, and the Lions didn’t have clear possession.

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The second one, though, appeared to be one the officials would overturn. With 4:22 remaining, Saints tight end Benjamin Watson converted a fourth-and-6 with a 9-yard catch along the sideline, but one of his feet appeared to be out of bounds when he caught it.

“I’ve stopped trying to figure these guys out,” Caldwell said when asked what explanation the officials gave him. “I threw my hands up in the air on that one. I don’t know. Whatever they saw or thought they saw, we thought we saw it on replay and it looked pretty obvious. But, who knows?”

It was a more animated reaction than usual from Caldwell as he typically tries to avoid ripping the refs even when things go against the Lions.

The Saints scored a touchdown at the end of that drive to cut the Lions’ lead to 35-27 with 1:55 remaining instead of the Lions having a chance to run out the clock with a 15-point lead.

Third down: The Lions nearly had to play against quarterback Matt Flynn, the former Green Bay backup who threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns against the Lions in Week 17 of 2011.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees had an apparent foot or ankle injury, and as the trainers evaluated him in the second quarter, Flynn was warming up.

“I just had to keep it moving because it was getting stiff, but we were able to manage it,” Brees said.

Brees also said he wasn’t sure of the severity of the injury, but he played well after suffering it and finished 34 of 52 for 341 yards and three touchdowns.

Fourth down: Even though Brees was fairly productive, the Lions were glad that he was the one trying to beat them.

As counterintuitive as that sounds with one of the best quarterbacks of all time, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin always wants the Lions to stop the run and make opponents one-dimensional, regardless of how good the signal caller is.

The Lions held the Saints to 69 rushing yards and a 3.8-yard average as New Orleans threw 52 times compared to 18 runs.

“I know it sounds crazy to force him to throw because he’s a great, accurate quarterback,” cornerback Darius Slay said. “But we made them really one-dimensional. … We did our job.”