Note to NFL officiating crews everywhere: the Detroit Lions are perfectly capable of screwing games up all by themselves — they don’t need any help from you.

The Lions, as you’ve read all over the Internet and in those things that preceded it called newspapers, got jobbed yesterday in Minnesota by the zebras. Twice. And on one of those occasions, the very vehicle that was designed to prevent such malfeasance upheld the mistake that was made on the field.

Why, it might have actually been a travesty, if the Lions were any sort of a football team.

Whether they won in the Metrodome or not — and isn’t it just par for the course that the Vikings thieved another one away from the Lions — wouldn’t have changed, one iota, what happens to the Lions after this season is safely in the books. And if you’re looking for evidence that confirms the suspicion that 0-4 teams are treated more shabbily than others, look no further than yesterday’s game. So Lions fans’ outrage is probably justified, but as I wrote last week, is also just more wasted negative energy.

There’s no real difference between 1-4 and 0-5, is there?

Bad Call No. 1 was the opinion on the field, and upheld in that supposedly just court of appeals in the replay booth, that WR Calvin Johnson fumbled after a key, long pass reception in the fourth quarter. It was one of those calls that you feel better about once you see the video evidence play out on the TV screen.

“Oh, that will be overturned. No sweat,” you say as you venture to the fridge for another pop.

Then you return to the television and see that the court of appeals must be crooked, on the take, or with money on the Vikings. Or all of the above. For the call was confirmed, even though it sure looked like that Johnson had control of the ball when his knee made contact with the turf.

The referee explained afterward that there was no irrefutable evidence that the call on the field was wrong, so he had no choice but to uphold it. Maybe they showed him Tom and Jerry reruns under the hood instead of the actual play. Because had they shown him what we were privy to in the comforts of our own homes and neighborhood bars, then he certainly would have reversed the call.

Bad Call no. 2 was the real killer, though. The phantom pass interference collared on Leigh Bodden — who played wonderfully — late in the fourth quarter that instantly put the Vikings in game-winning field goal range. Not only did Bodden appear to play the pass perfectly with minimal contact, there was a question as to whether the ball was catchable at all. Earlier in the game, the officials let Johnson get mugged but kept the hankies in their pockets, apparently reasoning that Johnson could never have caught a long bomb near the end zone.

Bodden demanded an apology from the NFL, then quickly admitted that such a gesture wouldn’t change a darn thing; Lions lose, whether the league is sorry or not. But they probably aren’t; who cares about 0-5, 31-86 teams?

Then there’s the old adage of, “Well, if we did some things better, those calls wouldn’t matter.”


The Lions rushed the passer. They blocked a field goal attempt. They were decent against the run. They broke off a 50-yard run of their own. They didn’t really turn the ball over. They forced two fumbles from Adrian Peterson. They tackled. For long stretches of time, they looked like a pro football team. Yet it wasn’t quite good enough.

At one point, with the Lions threatening to not get blown out for the first time this season, Fox’s Ron Pitts wondered whether the action on the field was a result of the Lions raising their game a level, or the Vikings lowering theirs. Even the announcers don’t give the benefit of the doubt to 0-4 teams.

Again, no big deal in the scheme of things. We’re only talking the difference between 1-15 and 2-14 here, folks. Still, it would have been nice for the guys to have a chance to lose the game on their own, without the nudge from the officials. The way I see it, that bad pass interference call robbed me of discovering Way #564 of how the Lions can lose a football game.

Oh well — there’s always next week.