Was it a touchdown, or wasn’t it? Did the officials rob the Lions again, or was it the right call?
Last Sunday’s reversal of a would-be Golden Tate touchdown that left the Lions 30-26 losers against the Atlanta Falcons might have been unique in its ending, but it was a familiar refrain for a franchise that has seen its share of spectacularly gut-punching finishes in recent memory.
Here are just a few:
Sept. 24, 2017 — Falcons 30, Lions 26
With a chance to start the season 3-0, the Lions, despite an ugly first half, battle the defending NFC-champion Falcons most of the game, and Matthew Stafford, Mr. Fourth Quarter Comeback, is on his late game again, taking Detroit down the field. Then, on third-and-goal from the 1 with 13 seconds left, Stafford finds Golden Tate across the middle for what seems like another late, game-winning touchdown. A celebration starts — but is quickly muted. A review shows Tate’s knee down just before the ball breaks the plane. Even worse, the Lions don’t have any timeouts left, meaning there’s a 10-second runoff. Problem is, there’s not 10 seconds left. Game over.
Dec. 3, 2015 — Packers 27, Lions 23
After starting the season 1-7, the Lions have seemingly turned the corner, entering this game at Ford Field on a three-game winning streak. It’s a nationally-televised game, at night, and the Lions came to play — leading late into the fourth quarter. And they have the game seemingly won when they bring down Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the last play of the game — or so they thought. But Devin Taylor is called for a facemask that, upon review, clearly wasn’t, allowing the Packers one more, untimed crack at the game. And, of course, given one more play, Rodgers, after scrambling all over the backfield, fires a bomb into the end zone, where Richard Rodgers comes down with the Hail Mary.
Oct. 5, 2015 — Seahawks 13, Lions 10
The whole nation got to see this one, “Monday Night Football” in Seattle. The Lions offense is mostly dreadful, which is no real surprise, given the strength of that Seahawks defense. But after the defense comes up big with a score, the Lions offense gets its act together just in time — late in the fourth, driving down the field and into the red zone. Then Matthew Stafford fires to Calvin Johnson, who appears headed to the end zone until Kam Chancellor delivers a jarring hit, and knocks the ball loose and into the end zone. There, K.J. Wright bats it out of the end zone, resulting in a turnover. Turns out, it’s an illegal move, and the Lions should’ve gotten the ball at the 1. Instead, game over. The Lions are 0-4.
Jan. 4, 2015 — Cowboys 24, Lions 20 (wild-card playoffs)
It looked for quite some time like the Lions would have just their second playoff victory in the Super Bowl era, taking a 20-14 lead into the fourth quarter — and on the road, no less. Then craziness ensued. With the Lions at midfield, driving and facing a third-and-1, when a first down would vastly increase their chances of winning, Matthew Stafford fires to Brandon Pettigrew. It’s incomplete, but a flag is thrown, and pass interference is announced. But, incredibly, the flag is then picked up, a no-call is announced. Then, there’s another terrible no-call, as Dez Bryant runs onto the field without a helmet, but isn’t flagged. The Lions punt — typically reliable Sam Martin shanks it — and, well, the rest is history.
Nov. 22, 2012 — Texans 34, Lions 31 (OT)
This had to happen on Thanksgiving. The Lions, mediocre to start the season, are in position to beat the mightier Texans. But in the second half, more craziness. Texans running back Justin Forsett clearly was down on a run, but for whatever reason, no official blew the whistle — so like any running back is taught, Forsett kept going. He got up and scampered 81 yards and into the end zone to make it a three-point game. It’s about to be reviewed — that is, until head coach Jim Schwartz throws the challenge flag. In another obscure rule, but one Schwartz should’ve known, that is an unsportsmanlike penalty, the review is nixed, and the Texans win in OT. That was part of the Lions’ eight-game skid to end the season.
Sept. 12, 2010 — Bears 19, Lions 14
In the season opener in Chicago, the Lions sure looked like they pulled off quite the fourth-quarter rally — and without Matthew Stafford, wouldn’t you believe. With 30 seconds left and the Lions trailing by five and on the 28-yard line, backup quarterback Shaun Hill throws it up for Calvin Johnson in the end zone. And the Lions star receiver, no surprise, comes down with it — and the celebration ensues. But it doesn’t last long. While a touchdown was the original call on the field, it was then announced that Johnson hadn’t completed the process of the catch, and a review confirms it. The Lions lose, part of their 0-4 start. (The rules committee in recent years considered a change, but opted against it.)