The bottom line? The Lions lose to the Houston Texans in the 2012 Thanksgiving Classic, 34-31 in overtime. While the score seems competitive on the surface, and indeed it was a premier game this season, a blow-for-blow, offensive explosion at Ford Field. But the real headline of this game, surprisingly, isn’t the two field goals that the Lions missed to seal the game.
No, it wasn’t a handshake gone awry, either. Come on, guys.
It’s the challenge flag that Jim Schwartz never threw.
Let’s rewind for a second. Due to to the new CBA agreement, all touchdowns are supposed to be reviewed.
What’s more, we found out last week that a coach who throws a challenge flag on a play that’s supposed to be reviewed anyway gets the flag. So when Mike Smith threw that challenge flag on that day, we all knew it was a mistake. But hey, the Falcons won (and won ugly), so who cares, right? Laugh it off, let it be a lesson for the other 31 coaches around the League.
Fast forward to today.
It turns out not all the coaches were paying attention to that game. So when Texans running back Justin Forsett scored on the longest run in Texans history, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz thought it was curious that a whistle wasn’t blown when Forsett’s knee and forearm appeared to hit the ground halfway through the run. It took little thought for Schwartz to flick his wrist and throw a challenge flag, bright and red as it is, far out so all the refs could see it.
Undoubtedly, he was confused when the referees threw a flag of their own back at him. Except theirs was yellow. A penalty flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, ruling the challenge that Schwartz called null and cancelling the review they were going to do anyway. Touchdown Texans, the score tightening up the 24-14 lead the Lions had and making it 24-21.
And later, the Lions would find a way to lose.
A video of the play can be viewed here.
The question in everyone’s mind is this: who, exactly to blame? Schwartz or the res for missing the call in the first place? I have to put the blame on Schwartz. Regardless of whether or not the referees called the original play correctly, the play would have definitely been reversed had the challenge flag never been thrown. Schwartz canceled his own challenge by challenging the play. Personally, I won’t fault the referees for that. I have too much respect for referees in all sports to use them as a scapegoat for why teams win and lose, and I also believe teams have too much control in the outcome of a game to allow a third-party “control” the outcome of the game. Yes, even here, where I’d like to argue that allowing eight sacks to your franchise QB isn’t the formula to winning however you want to look at it.
This is a game where Matt Stafford threw the ball 61 times, completing 31 passes for 441 yards and a pair of touchdowns. This is a game in which Calvin Johnson had amassed over 100 yards by halftime, where the Lions still gained 100 yards rushing, where Detroit forced two Houston turnovers. For all intents and purposes, the game would have likely been won in regulation as Houston slowed down more and more noticeably as the game wore on, Detroit suffering no such breaks in offensive action.
But this was also a game of missed opportunities. Driving freely as they had all game, Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew was stripped by defensive MVP candidate and Houston cornerback Danieal Manning in the opening possession in the extra period. Houston missed a field goal on its first possession in the extra period. The Lions would then end up punting in Houston territory, driving only 14 yards in 5 plays against a defense they had been tearing up all day. Matt Schaub would throw an interception on the next drive, giving Detroit the ball again. Detroit, again, could barely move the ball, gaining 16 yards to take a medium-length field goal attempt, but kicker Jason Hanson’s 47-yard field goal attempt bounced off the right field goal post and Houston would end the game on a field goal with 2:21 left for overtime.
Certainly, Detroit had the opportunities to win. But it was almost as if Detroit simply could not finish the game the way they needed to. A touchdown that should have never happened, however, was all the Texans needed give them enough fight to finish Detroit.
Whether or not it was an emotional action, a moment of forgetfulness, or whatever, Jim Schwartz’s actions screwed his own team over. And he knew that. It’s much too easy to blame the refs in pro sports, and much too easy to blame the refs here–or rather, too easy to not place the blame on Schwartz.
Houston coach Gary Kubiak wasn’t giving Schwartz any passes:
“A rule’s a rule,” Kubiak said. “I know one thing: You’ve got to keep your flag tucked in your pocket.”
Whatever the case, the Lions are 0-9 in their last nine Thanksgiving games, and this just goes down as another blunder for the Lions, and another “remember that time when…?” moment for Thanksgiving Day football.
Original Article: “Thanks For Nothing” by Synopsis
UPDATE: Mike Pereira, head of NFL officiating, tweeted this after the game: “rule is if the coach throws the flag before the Replay official initiates a review,the play cannot be reviewed. This will change.”