(Reuters) - The Detroit Lions were left feeling robbed on Sunday after officials reversed a pass interference call that set the stage for the Dallas Cowboys' 24-20 NFC wildcard win.
Clinging to a 20-17 lead and marching toward the Dallas end zone with about eight minutes left, Detroit looked to have extended the drive when quarterback Matthew Stafford fired a pass toward Brandon Pettigrew that drew an interference penalty on Cowboys defender Anthony Hitchens.
However, instead of getting a crucial first down the Lions were forced to punt after officials reversed the call, determining there had been no foul on the play.
Dallas took over and went on a game-winning drive, leaving Detroit without a postseason victory since January 1992.
The referee's decision to pick up the flag drew immediate outrage on social media.
Former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy tweeted: "That's pretty unbelievable that they could call pass interference and then pick up the flag with no explanation?? Not sure why?"
Even actor Samuel L. Jackson chimed in: "Can anybody other than a Cowboy fan explain that call?!"
In a post-game interview referee Pete Morelli ran through the play, saying the back judge had made the call but after consulting with other officials on the field, it was decided there was no interference and the flag was picked up.
"The back judge threw his flag for defensive pass interference. We got other information from another official from a different angle that thought the contact was minimal and didn’t warrant pass interference. He thought it was face-guarding," Morelli said in a pool report.
He added that while face-guarding, which involved a defender raising his hands in the face of receiver and blocking his vision without playing the ball, is a penalty in college football it is not a foul in the National Football League.
Morelli's reasoning, however, did little to satisfy Lions head coach Jim Caldwell.
"It wasn't good enough," he said when asked about the explanation.
"I'm not going to sit up here and act like that was the call that made the difference in the game. We still had our chances."
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Peter Rutherford