Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory. Instead of the Zapruder film, Detroit Lions truthers had still television shots that they could post on Twitter.
If you think that the officials made a bad call, not enforcing a pass interference on Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens, that’s fine. Contact was made by Hitchens (and by Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew too, if we’re looking at the play shot by shot) and many people argue that’s indisputable proof it should be a flag and the officials screwed up.
Blaming the officials for a blown call and leaving it at that is reasonable. It’s not reasonable to say, “The officials not calling that is proof the NFL is fixed.”
To avoid having to respond to every crackpot conspiracy theory I can recall seeing in my email inbox and Twitter mentions since The Non-Call on Sunday night, I figured I'd debunk the main ones here:
The NFL wanted the Cowboys to win
When you claim something like this, a motive needs to be involved. The common one for the NFL rigging its entire league to get the Cowboys to win seems to rest on television ratings. Specifically, that the Cowboys draw more viewers than the Lions. Which is true, but that doesn't mean the NFL is ruining the integrity of its league over it.
We’re supposed to believe that the NFL, which is a television ratings monster that dwarfs every other league and most other television programming period, needs the ratings that bad? When you factor in that a game next Saturday in prime time between the Lions and Seattle Seahawks would likely draw a bigger audience than the 7-8-1Carolina Panthers battling the Seahawks, the overall ratings boost is not that great.
So the NFL, which is a multi-billion dollar business, is going to risk its entire league (because if the league did fix games to get the Cowboys through and that plan was exposed, that’s a blow the NFL or any sports league would never recover from) over what, a few million viewers? Because a relatively small ratings bump is going to result in huge money on the new contract that doesn’t start until 2023? Or maybe they’re risking the entire league to brag about Nielsen points to their friends? They'd risk ruining the entire league over this? If your proof the fix was in has to do with television ratings, well, no.
And, as @NotDezBryant on Twitter pointed out, the NFL overturning Lions star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's suspension last week is a really weird way for the league to fix a game for Dallas.
The referees wanted the Cowboys to win
If the officials wanted the Cowboys to win, for whatever reason you have, why throw the flag in the first place? Why would referee Pete Morelli – who would have to be in on this presumed fix – announce pass interference at all, before the reversal? The officials, if we believe they wanted Dallas to win, could have not thrown a flag on that play and nobody ever talks about that play again. I give it zero percent chance that anybody remembers Hitchens and Pettigrew if a flag is never thrown. It would just be another random play in an NFL playoff game if the ball falls incomplete and no penalty flag is thrown.
Also, the officials called back a DeMarco Murray touchdown on a not-so-obvious holding by tight end Jason Witten (the call was fine, but it wasn’t blatant) when the Lions led 20-7 late in the third quarter. If the officials wanted the Cowboys to win, taking a Dallas touchdown off the board for a borderline penalty is a really bad way to get that accomplished.
Dez Bryant wasn’t flagged for arguing the initial call
Bryant, the Cowboys’ star receiver, ran on the field (without his helmet, to add to the fury) to argue the call. Could it have been a 15-yard penalty? Sure. Could Ohio State coach Urban Meyer been called for 15 yards for throwing his headset in the Sugar Bowl? Sure. Do any number of things happen in an NFL game that could technically draw a personal foul and don’t get called because the officials don’t want that to decide a game? Yes.
With people complaining about Bryant not getting a penalty, it's first time ever we’re ever had a movement for getting the officials to decide games with unnecessary penalties. They showed some restraint. I won’t be rooting for officials to decide games in the future on stuff like sideline infractions or being on the field without a helmet.
Dean Blandino partied with the Cowboys
This is where people start really going off the rails. NFL head of officiating Blandino wasspotted coming off the Cowboys’ bus in Los Angeles, as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and executive vice president Stephen Jones, Jerry’s son, were having a good time.
Was this Blandino’s smartest move? No, and we’re seeing why right now. Does that mean he orchestrated fixing a game with Jerry Jones that day? No. We’d have to think a plan was hatched that day in which Blandino orchestrated a fix among the officials – who are basically officiating all-star teams and not normal crews, so Morelli’s crew on Sunday hadn’t worked together before – to get the Cowboys a playoff win. And they did this on a bus back in August. And – in a game that the COWBOYS HAD A TOUCHDOWN NULLIFIED DUE TO PENALTY – Morelli picked this spot, picking up a pass-interference flag after he’d already called it, to enforce Blandino’s big master plan.
Blandino wasn’t too smart to party with the Cowboys but if this is your proof the fix was in … whew. No.
So if you want to believe the officials are horrible and missed a blatant call, that’s fine. The NFL screws up a lot of things, but there was no plot to fix a game. The league would not risk ruining a multi-billion dollar company for an incredibly small benefit, if there was a benefit at all. There was no conspiracy and there was no fix. And no, Roger Goodell didn’t send this to me to publish, either.