In a week where the most important NFL action was taking place on the sidelines and where seemingly every game exploded into a cacophony of madness at one point or another, the Detroit Lions elected to spend Sunday afternoon honoring their proud heritage of failure and losing in the most heartbreaking way possible.

That the Lions, long one of the NFL’s greatest laughing stocks, would lose to an Atlanta Falcons team that – if only temporarily – held a huge lead in the Super Bowl just last season, is not surprising. It’s the manner of Detroit’s defeat that made this loss so particularly painful. After trailing all afternoon, the Lions marched down the field and appeared to take their first lead of the game with only eight seconds left on the clock as Matthew Stafford found Golden Tate on a quick in-route at the goal line.

The play, ruled a touchdown on the field, was subject to video review, as are all touchdowns. Replays of the play made it clear that there was certainly room for debate as to whether or not Tate was down by contact just short of the goal line. That no single camera angle showed conclusive proof that Tate is both down and touched by an opposing player before crossing the goal line – the latter portion being an important aspect of “down by contact” – did not stop the officials from overturning the on-field ruling and taking Detroit’s touchdown off the board.

While Lions fans were certainly aggrieved at this first portion of the revised ruling, it was no fresh experience; after all they’ve witnessed, “long-suffering” is the default epithet for all Lions fans. Luckily for Detroit, the Tate non-touchdown was a third down play, meaning they at least had one more shot for a victory on fourth down.

Enjoy this while it lasts, Lions fans.

Or so you might have thought.

More devastating than the touchdown coming off the board was the second half of the official ruling: since Tate was ruled down in-bounds the clock should have kept running after the play and, since Detroit had no additional timeouts remaining with which to stop the clock, the play was therefore subject to a 10-second runoff. Tate was, as you’ll recall, ruled down with eight seconds left in the game.

I’ll spare you the math. Game over.

Who’s to blame here? The refs for trying their best to enforce a goofy rule? The dumb rule for existing in the first place? Detroit’s coaching staff for calling a play that even allowed for this possibility? Yes. Yes, to all of the above. It sure seems like everyone and everything (lest we let that damned rule off the hook) involved in this play managed to contribute to the mess that exploded all over the Lions. This was an asinine way to end an incredibly entertaining game. (Though the ending itself, while devastating for Lions fans, was certainly entertaining in its own gruesome way.)

If you’re a Falcons fan, you’re thrilled with this outcome and if Stafford or Tate are on your fantasy roster, you’re furious. If you’re one of those long-suffering Lions fans then yes, this sucks, but hey, it’s a one-time thing; it’s not like your team is constantly getting screwed by bizarre rules. Oh wait. Well, at least you won’t be tormented by some crucial, game-changing detail that the officials overlooked.


I’ll say this about the Lions: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is kind of their thing and they sure know how to stay on-brand.


Brennan Quenneville is an editor and contributor at The Read Option. He can also be found at his blog and at Type In Stereo, where he is a contributor.