The Detroit Lions lost an absolute heartbreaker to the Atlanta Falcons at home on Sunday.
After trailing the entire game, the Lions spent all three of their timeouts as the defense forced a three-and-out late in the fourth quarter to give Matthew Stafford and company the chance to drive the field for the winning touchdown.
Starting from their own 11-yard line, the Lions marched down the field and made it to the red zone with just 34 seconds remaining in the game. Stafford missed receiver Eric Ebron on first and second down, but Marvin Jones earned a pass interference in the end zone to give the Lions first-and-goal from the one-yard line with 19 seconds left.
The Lions were forced to throw in order to preserve as much time as possible, and passes on first and second down fell incomplete. On third down, the chaos began.
The ball was snapped with 12 seconds left on the clock and Stafford quickly completed a short pass to wide receiver Golden Tate who appeared to cross the plane of the goal line while falling to the ground. The referees called the play a touchdown on the field and the crowd at Ford Field went wild. The clock stopped with eight seconds remaining in the game.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 24, 2017
As with any scoring play, the touchdown was automatically reviewed by the officials, and the result would leave the home crowd devastated.
After looking at the replay, the referees determined that Tate had been down just inches short of the end zone. At first, many fans thought this meant the Lions would get one more shot at punching the ball in with a win. Unfortunately, due to the overturned play occurring in the final two minutes of the game, a 10-second runoff was applied to account for the incorrect stoppage.
The Lions had no timeouts left to prevent the runoff, and since there were less than 10 seconds left in the game, the game went final with Detroit sitting just inches away from upsetting the 2016 NFC Champions in front of the home crowd.
Oddly enough, the Lions lost because the referees gave them the winning touchdown on the field.
What made the ending especially controversial was the fact that the clock had eight seconds left when the play went to the booth. Had there been just two seconds left, it would’ve been impossible for the Lions to get to the line in time to pull off their final snap, but with eight seconds it would have been close at the very least.
After the game, Lions coach Jim Caldwell was asked if he thought the Lions would have been able to get off one more play on fourth down had the play initially been called short of the goal line. “Certainly,” he said. “We practice it all the time.”
While some on Twitter believed that the clock would have run out either way on the Lions, the organization appears to disagree, with the Lions official Twitter account tweeting out rebukes to some that questioned their speed.
Clock would have run out? ????
Our offense covered 27 yards to get a snap off in 7 seconds at Minnesota last year. https://t.co/GbGlprZt9U
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) September 24, 2017
Amazingly enough, as SB Nation’s Matt Ufford noted, the controversial finish occurred exactly five years after Tate’s “Fail Mary” catch for the Seattle Seahawks that gave them a walk-off win over the Packers on Monday Night Football during the “replacement ref” season.
The Lions still look like a strong team going forward in the season, sporting a 2-1 record and coming just inches short of a 3-0 start to the season. That said, if the Lions finish just outside of the NFC playoff picture this season, there’s no doubt they’ll be thinking back to this game.