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Eagles-Lions officials were inexcusably bad

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No excuse for the loss though

Philadelphia Eagles v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. The Eagles lost to the Lions because the defense gave up 21 points in the first half and the offense had two bad turnovers on their final two possessions. Full stop. Games don’t come down to one play or one call. Turning points happen because the series of events leading up to it put a team in a position to fail or succeed, and because the series of events that follow it either continue to dig the hole or build upon the success. If the Eagles had stopped one of the three first half Lions touchdown drives or held one to a field goal, the Eagles win. If Carson Wentz makes a better decision or different throw, the Eagles keep the ball and might have won. But they didn’t, and they can’t blame the officials for that.

That doesn’t absolve the officials from blame for an atrocious game though. From The Detroit News:

After a quick conference, referee Pete Morelli called the Eagles for an ineligible man downfield, negating the potential reception. The infraction was called against No. 98, which made no sense, since No. 98 on the Eagles is defensive player Connor Barwin, who naturally wasn’t on the field at the time.

But, without warning, the officials on the sidelines began moving the first down markers and Morelli announced the play was under review. What? Why?

Well, you’re not going to believe the reason.

Apparently, in a momentary lapse, one of the officials forgot which team was on offense and threw the flag on Lions defensive end Devin Taylor, No. 98.

“Yes, the ineligible receiver that they called downfield was Devin Taylor,” coach Jim Caldwell said after the game. “Then he realized that he called it on Devin and said that’s why they picked the flag up.”

This is egregiously bad. There are always going to be questionable calls and judgment decisions that are made incorrectly. Holding, pass interference, possession of a catch, etc., there’s a lot of grey area in those calls, and they’re not always going to go right.

This wasn’t one of those calls. This was an unacceptable error by two officials. Morelli talked to two officials before calling the penalty, Line Judge #90 Mike Spanier and Umpire #92 Bryan Neale before calling the penalty. Whichever of those two called the penalty thought that on the seventh of play of the Eagles possession that the Lions were on offense. That’s an unfathomable error.

And then Morelli heard the call and didn’t realize, until after the play was reviewed, that it was impossible to call an offensive play on #98, as that is a defensive number. The number alone should have been a red flag to him. That’s one of the reasons the NFL has specific numbers for positions, so that they can easily identify things like who is an eligible receiver and who is eligible to be downfield. #57 doesn’t get called for illegal motion, #14 doesn’t get called for encroachment, and #98 doesn’t get called for illegal man downfield. The rules of the NFL safeguard against that unless a player is playing two ways, which the officials would be alerted to. What would have happened if the play wasn’t reviewed?

There’s no excuse for those errors. That’s pure incompetence, and a familiar charge for Pete Morelli.

There really is no way to describe Pete Morelli’s 2015 season other than as a nightmare. Blown calls—lots of them, and in very visible situations—led to the Morelli crew unsurprisingly being left out of the postseason, and now the league has come down with its strongest censure short of termination: it’s reassigned every member of the crew.

Nor is it the first time this season his crew has had notable errors. Last week’s Bills-Patriots game was a mess.

And the Steelers-Bengals game the week before was too.

With 1:50 left in the fourth quarter, the Steelers leading 24-16 and the Bengals driving,Andy Dalton found rookie Tyler Boyd with a 6-yard pass. But Boyd, who appeared to be down, lost the ball on a hit by linebacker James Harrison. Safety Robert Golden recovered it, scrambled down the left sideline before he was eventually tackled at midfield.

But turnovers are automatically reviewed, and everyone -- the CBS announcers, fans and beat writers for both teams on Twitter, and our own two eyes -- seemed certain that the call on the field would be overturned because Boyd's knee looked to hit the turf before the ball was dislodged. Worst case, the Bengals would continue their drive.

Somehow, that didn't happen.

And it wasn’t just the one call in the Eagles game. Doug Pederson had to challenge a spot that was at least a yard off. And Ryan Mathews fumble probably should have been ruled dead before the Lions were able to recover it.

Regardless of the outcome, every team deserves better officiating than that.

H/T to Brandon Gowton