It's true, the Lions got the short end of the refereeing stick. On third-and-1, Brandon Pettigrew appeared to draw pass interference, refs called it, then decided it wasn't a penalty. The fact that the penalty wasn't called is bad -- it sure looks like one! -- the fact that the refs inexplicably reneged on the call is worse.
But the game didn't end after that. In fact, the Lions had the lead in the fourth quarter and the ball in enemy territory. By any estimation, the Lions were still in the driver's seat to win.
They had a fourth-and-1 on the opposing 46. At first, they lined up to go for it. But they didn't.
They just tried to draw the opponent offsides and waited for the play clock to expire, earning a 5-yard delay of game penalty.
Having set up a fourth-and-6, it was time to punt. And Sam Martin shanked the living heck out of the ball, a 10-yard punt:
Even if Martin's punt had been good, Caldwell's decision wasn't a good one. He had the opportunity to add to his team's lead by picking up a yard, which is something NFL teams can do more often than not. If they'd picked it up, they could've added to their lead. Caldwell had a pretty good chance of picking up a first down and was on a part of the field where missing wouldn't hurt. And he decided to willingly give possession of the ball to the other team for field position.
With the actual result of Martin's punt, Caldwell's decision was absolutely atrocious. Even if the Lions hadn't picked up the first down, they only pushed the ball five yards further downfield than where it would've been if they missed.
You know the story. The Cowboys drove the length of the field and scored and the Lions couldn't answer. The Lions lost, their season is done, and we all got mad at the refs for screwing them.
Sometimes we focus too much on the result rather than the right call. A team goes for two to win and hits and their coach is a genius, a team goes for two to win and they miss and their coach is reckless and bad. The thing is, 2-point conversions are about a 50-50 proposition. One decision isn't considerably better than the other -- only the result.
That isn't the case here. It's easy to criticize Caldwell for the result, because the result -- a miserable punt, a touchdown, and a loss -- because the result was as horrible as it could've possibly been. But it's also right to criticize Caldwell for making a laughable, cowardly, and demonstrably wrong decision.