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Cincinnati — Where was the challenge by Lions coach Jim Caldwell?

It was a widespread question that flooded social media and had many scratching their heads after a critical fourth-quarter pass to receiver Golden Tate was ruled incomplete in Sunday’s embarrassing 26-17 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

While facing a third-and-28 at their own 7 with 4:00 remaining and the season essentially hanging in the balance, quarterback Matthew Stafford heaved a desperation throw down the right sideline to Tate, who nearly came down with it before he had the ball stripped away by a swarm of Bengals defenders as he was going to the ground.

However, replays showed Tate might have regained possession while he was lying on the ground after the ball was initially poked out of his hands.

Dean Blandino, the former vice president of officiating and current Fox Sports rules analyst, said during the broadcast that the slow-motion replay is deceiving compared to the actual game speed.

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“He’s got to maintain control on the ground for a period of time,” Blandino said. “To me, it came out pretty quickly and I think that’s a good call on the field of an incomplete pass.”

Apparently, Caldwell felt the same way and opted to keep the red challenge flag in his pocket.

“From what our guys saw on the replay and those kinds of things, he had it, went down and didn’t complete the catch,” Caldwell said after the game. “It bounced out. That was the ruling.”

If the Lions had challenged the play and it was ruled a catch, they would’ve had a fresh set of downs near midfield and would’ve been closing in on field-goal range for Matt Prater with a chance to take the lead with 3:49 to go.

Even if the Lions had challenged and were unsuccessful, then they would've been down to two timeouts and forced to punt the ball, which seemed like a risk well worth taking considering the gravity of the situation.

Instead, Caldwell opted to conserve a timeout with the hope that the defense a unit that allowed the lowly Bengals to score on their first three drives of the second half — could come up with a quick stop and get the ball back.

However, that plan never panned out. Following a 33-yard punt by Sam Martin, the Bengals took advantage of the short field and running back Gio Bernard put the Lions out of their misery with a 12-yard rushing touchdown with 1:48 remaining.

Tate was not available for comment after the game.

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/jamesbhawkins

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