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Explaining the call that ended the Falcons’ win over the Lions

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The Falcons escaped with one, but the call on the field appears to have been correct.

Atlanta Falcons v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

If you were alive yesterday (and if not, congratulations), you saw the Falcons ultimately beat the Lions thanks to a reversed touchdown call and subsequent runoff that ended the game. But what was that call all about, anyways?

Kevin Seifert at ESPN has an excellent explanation of what exactly happened during that play, which we were all a little stunned by when it occurred. Here’s the relevant blow-by-blow.

We all saw Matthew Stafford throw what certainly looked like a touchdown pass at first blush to Golden Tate deep inside Atlanta’s territory, and started making preparations to confront a last ditch Hail Mary with less than ten seconds left on the clock. But then the officiating crew reviewed the play and saw something in slow motion that was not readily evident on the field.

There were eight seconds remaining when Coleman's crew signaled for a touchdown. That stopped the clock, of course. All scoring plays are reviewed automatically by the NFL, and when senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron saw the replay, he noted that Tate's left knee touched the ground before the ball crossed the plane. Because Falcons cornerback Brian Poole touched Tate's shoulder as he was falling, Tate was by rule down by contact.

Okay, fine, but why did the league run ten seconds off the clock, you ask? The NFL didn’t want teams getting a free stopped clock in a charged situation, so they added a ten second runoff to inaccurately simulate how much time would be run off in that scenario. The Lions had no timeouts left to stop that with, and thus the game ended. It was weird, deeply enraging if you were a Lions fan, and sort of joyous and confusing if you were a Falcons fan, but it was still a game-ending play. All that’s left is to endlessly argue over whether Tate was truly down or not.

Seifer rightly points out that it would have been an extreme struggle for the Lions to get a play off in eight seconds—something the Lions themselves dispute—and that might have been it even if the NFL had nailed the call right away. Regardless of how fair it looks, at least the NFL played this one by its own rulebook.