Matt Patricia won't rip NFL after controversial calls in Lions' loss to Packers

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News

After a day of fans bemoaning, players and media NFL-wide sympathizing, and the league apologizing, Lions coach Matt Patricia would not stoke the fire Tuesday about the controversial calls from Monday night in Green Bay.

After declining to publicly hold anybody outside of the Lions facility accountable for the 23-22 loss to the Packers, Patricia was asked if he had a message for the long-suffering fan base about the latest series of gut punches.

The Packers' Darrius Shepherd is brought down by the Lions defense in the third quarter Monday night at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

“I love our fan base, and I love their passion and I love all of it,” Patricia said. “I appreciate it more than you know, and I want the fans to know that we’re going to work to get things right, do things the right way. 

“We’re tough, we’re built tough, we’re blue-collar, just like this city, just like this state. We’ll just continue to be tough and in the end, toughness is going to prevail. And we’re going to do everything possible to make sure that’s the case.”

The Lions’ loss at Lambeau Field meant Detroit (2-2-1) sits in last place of the NFC North instead of first heading into Sunday’s home game against Minnesota, and left Detroit fans with a rotten taste in the mouths about the NFL.

Trey Flowers was called for a pair of illegal hands to the face penalties in the fourth quarter, breathing new life into stalled Packers’ drives that eventually made the difference in the NFC North first-place showdown.

The league acknowledged the second Flowers penalty was an officiating error, giving the Packers a first down, after which they ran the clock down to set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning 23-yard field goal. That gave Green Bay its only lead of the game with no time left on the clock.

NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent, speaking Tuesday at a news conference during the league’s fall meetings in Florida, said the plays were discussed in competition committee meetings in Fort Lauderdale.

"There was one that was clear that we support. And there was the other, when you look at it, when you review the play, not something that you want to see called in particular on the pass rush,” Vincent said, according to “One that you can support but the other one, clearly after you review it, you've seen some slo-mos, the foul wasn't there.”

Vincent said he intends to talk to Lions' owner Martha Ford about the error, in addition to general manager Bob Quinn. Patricia said late afternoon Tuesday that he had been in meetings all day, and had not yet heard from the league.

Flowers’ penalties weren’t the only ones drawing the ire of the fans on Monday: Kerryon Johnson had a reception overturned that would’ve went for a first down, Tracy Walker was called for unnecessary roughness on a play where he was going for the ball, and Marvin Jones Jr. drew contact on a play that easily could’ve been called pass interference on Green Bay safety Will Redmond.

Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, when asked Tuesday about how pass interference has been called this season, said: “I would say ‘not’ would maybe be the best answer.

“I feel like it’s not been called.”

A new league rule would’ve allowed Patricia to challenge the non-call on Jones, but NFL coaches have had limited success in the preseason and regular season with getting pass interferences overturned. 

ESPN reports that, since Week 3, coaches are 1 for 25 on challenging pass interference penalties this season.

So instead of losing his timeout on a risky challenge, Patricia used all three during Green Bay’s last drive, appearing to force Crosby into a field goal from about 33 yards with 1:36 remaining to attempt to take a 23-22 lead.

Instead, umpire Jeff Rice made the second call on Flowers, who had not previously been called for that infraction in 50 career games before Monday. Jamaal Williams then alertly stopped short of the goal line despite the Lions’ defense conceding the touchdown, setting up the winning kick, which was capped off by Crosby's Lambeau Leap for good measure.

Melancholy fans can add Monday’s disappointment to a “Greatest Hits” of sorts for perceived injustices levied upon the Lions.

There’s plenty of familiar beats: Calvin Johnson not finishing the "process" of the catch in Chicago in 2010, the batting of the ball on Monday night in Seattle in 2015, the playoff picked-up flag in Dallas in 2014, the Golden Tate 10-second run-off in 2017 — we’ll spare memories of any more.

Detroit fans weren’t the only ones befuddled.

Lions legend Barry Sanders wasn’t shy in pressing his displeasure on Twitter, posting: “That is sickening… the NFL needs to look at a way to prevent that from happening. Two phantom hands to the face calls really hurt us tonight. Yes, we could have scored TDs, but Lions played too well to have the game end this way.”

Former Lions like Tahir Whitehead, Dan Orlovsky and Stephen Tulloch joined in the social media chorus; media personalities such as ESPN’s Booger McFarland on the telecast and Scott Van Pelt on his show after the game complained; and former players Matt Forte, Joe Theismann and Keith Bulluck were among the avalanche of dissenters toward the NFL.

But just like Lions’ coaches before him, Patricia wouldn’t put up a fight publicly.

“I think if you go through a game, and you’re relying on the officials to tell you whether or not you won, I don’t really think you’re going to turn out in the favorable manner more times than not,” Patricia said. “For us, it’s about trying to do the things that we can control to win a game, and try to do that better.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.