NFL Playoff Picture

Refs' wild penalty call on Lions' two-point try affects 49ers' playoff picture

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The 49ers' pursuit of the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed might have been boosted by, of all people, NFL referees, who made a controversial call toward the end of the Dallas Cowboys' 20-19 win over the Detroit Lions on Saturday night.

After a Jared Goff 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 a two-point conversion and the win. It worked, too, as offensive lineman Taylor Decker hauled in a pass from Goff on a trick play.

It didn't count, though, as refs called illegal touching on Decker, whom they said failed to report as an eligible receiver. The Lions protested to no avail, and eventually failed to convert the two-point attempt, losing the game in bitter fashion.

With the Lions falling to 11-5, the 49ers (11-4) now can secure the NFC's No. 1 seed 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 play, Goff sent Decker, who wears No. 68, to head referee Brad Allen to report as an eligible receiver. Fellow lineman Dan Skipper, who wears No. 70, also ran to the referee after Decker already was there.

Because the referees said it was No. 70, not No. 68, who reported as eligible, the formation on the play also was illegal. If the numbers were swapped, as the Lions claimed they should have, the play would have stood (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 No. 70, not No. 68, reported. Campbell said in his postgame presser that he went over the play to the officials before the game "to a tee."

3. Skipper said after the game that he did not report to the referees. Decker, who said he did report, also said it was his understanding that Campbell explained the play to the refs before the game.

4. Goff also said Skipper did not report but Decker did.

5. Allen talked to Calvin Watkins of Dallas Morning News after the game, and stuck with the claim that No. 70 (Skipper), not No. 68 (Decker), reported as eligible.

In summary, the Lions claimed they went over the play with the referees before the game and then properly executed it during the game, hence the Decker catch. But because the referees said a different lineman reported, the score didn't count.

Allen also was part of the officiating crew that missed a blatant defensive pass interference call that would have helped the Kansas City Chiefs in their 27-19 loss at the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 3.

Both the Lions and Cowboys now stand at 11-5 after the controversial result. Had the two-point conversion been given, Dallas would have trailed 21-20 with 23 seconds left on the clock. Of course, it never will be known how that situation might have played out, and how it could have changed the 49ers' playoff picture.

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