The 49ers' quest for the top seed in the NFC playoffs may have been fueled, of all people, by NFL referees, who made a controversial decision at the end of the Dallas Cowboys' 20-19 win over the Detroit Lions on Saturday night.
After Jared Goff's touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown with 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter pulled Detroit within one point at AT&T Stadium, Lions coach Dan Campbell made a gutsy call to go for the two-point conversion and the win. It worked, too, as offensive lineman Taylor Decker picked off a pass from Goff on a trick play.
However, that did not count, as the referees called an illegal touch to Decker, who they said failed to report as an eligible receiver. The Lions protested to no avail, and ultimately failed to convert the two-point attempt, losing the game in bitter fashion.
With the Lions down to 11-5, the 49ers are now (11-4). He could secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC On Sunday if they beat the Washington Commanders and the Philadelphia Eagles (11-4) lose to the Arizona Cardinals.
Let's try to break down exactly what happened at the end of the Lions-Cowboys game, though:
1. Before the game, Goff sent Decker, wearing No. 68, to head referee Brad Allen to report as an eligible receiver. His teammate Dan Skipper, wearing number 70, also ran towards the referee after Decker was already there.
Since the officials said it was the number 70, not the number 68, that declared him eligible, the formation on the play was also illegal. If the numbers had been switched, as the Lions claimed they should have done, the play would have stopped (Josh Reynolds, who was next to Decker, stood off the ball and was properly aligned).
2. After the flag was thrown, Allen told Campbell that it was No. 70, not No. 68, that had been reported. Campbell said in his postgame press conference that he briefed the officials on the play before the game “to a tee.”
3. Skipper said after the game that he did not inform the referees. Decker, who said he reported the matter, said he was aware Campbell explained the play to the officials before the game.
4. Goff also said Skipper did not report the matter but Decker did.
5. Allen spoke to Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News after the game, and stood by the claim that No. 70 (captain), not No. 68 (Decker), is considered eligible.
In short, the Lions claimed they reviewed the play with the officials before the game and then executed it correctly during the game, hence Decker's catch. But because the officials said a different player had reported, the score was not counted.
Allen was also part of a crew of referees that missed a blatant defensive pass interference call that would have helped the Kansas City Chiefs in their mission 27-19 loss to the Green Bay Packers On December 3.
Both the Lions and Cowboys now stand at 11-5 after the controversial result. Had the two-point conversion been converted, Dallas would have trailed 21-20 with 23 seconds left. Of course, how this situation could have played out, and how it could have changed the 49ers' playoff picture, will never be known.
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