Freeze frame shows refs actually screwed Cowboys before controversial Lions penalty

Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson sacks Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott during the first half at
Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson sacks Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott during the first half at / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

A win is a win, but the Dallas Cowboys probably should've lost to the Detroit Lions on Saturday night. While we should be heaping praise on CeeDee Lamb, Dak Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jourdan Lewis and other Cowboys heroes, everyone is talking about the controversial Lions penalty that gave Dallas the win.

After driving the length of the field to score a touchdown, the Lions converted a go-ahead two-point conversion with less than 30 seconds remaining. The referees called it back, though, deeming that offensive lineman Taylor Decker, who caught the two-pointer, never reported as an eligible receiver.

Footage shows Decker motion toward the refs before the snap and Decker himself revealed postgame that he, in fact, reported as eligible. It's apparent the Lions formation confused the refs and they botched the call in real time and cost Detroit a huge win in the NFC playoff picture.

There's no arguing that the Lions got hosed, but the refs actually screwed the Cowboys on the previous drive. Remember the crippling tripping call on Peyton Hendershot that wiped out a long Tony Pollard run on first down?

Hendershot ... didn't do anything. It was actually Lions edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson that extended his leg and then protested as if he was impeded.

Refs nearly screwed Cowboys with phanthom Peyton Hendershot tripping before Lions penalty

This will get lost in the chaos of the Lions penalty, but it shouldn't.

Hendershot sealed the edge perfectly, allowing Pollard to scamper for seven yards. The Cowboys should've had 2nd and 3 at the two-minute warning, needing just three yards to pick up a first down and ice the game by forcing Detroit to burn its two remaining timeouts. Instead, Dallas had 1st and 25, which set the stage for Mike McCarthy to nearly ruin everything with his horrid clock management.

On 2nd and 14 after a first down pass to CeeDee Lamb went for 11 yards, McCarthy dialed up a deep shot to Brandin Cooks that sailed out of bounds to stop the clock. In doing so, McCarthy spotted Detroit an extra 40 seconds and they got the ball back with 1:41 left in the game, which is an eternity.

McCarthy deserves to face the music, but it never should've came to that. This freeze frame shows Hutchinson extend his leg to trip Hendershot. Just as the Lions tricky formation seduced them into flagging Decker for illegal touching, the refs were bamboozled by the similarity in pant colors and mistook Hutchinson's leg for Hendershot's.

That is a damning photo. This call was the difference of 30 yards and allowed the Lions a chance to tie and potentially win the game. Detroit absolutely got cheated at the end, but odds are they aren't even in that spot if the refs don't call a phantom tripping on Hendershot.

It's a shame, really, because the officials made themselves scarce for most of the night before they intervened at the climax.

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