The head referee officiating the Sunday playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions explained why his crew controversially picked up the flag for defensive pass interference which helped Dallas cement a comeback. The answer won't appease some fans, but it makes sense.
Head referee Pete Morelli told the press pool in Dallas that the head linesman overturned the call because of information he received from another official.
"The back judge threw his flag for defensive pass interference. We got information from another official from a different angle that thought the contact was minimal and didn't warrant defensive pass interference. He thought it was face-guarding."
Face-guarding is a technique by which a defender blocks the sight-lines of a receiver without initiating contact. It's a legal technique in both college football and the NFL, despite Morelli being confused about its legality in the NCAA.
When asked what he saw Morelli said, "It's not my responsibility. I'm a hundred miles away," which is correct given the responsibilities of officials. Morelli was not in a position to make an accurate call on pass interference. Head referees are positioned behind the offense's running back focusing on the center/quarterback exchange, and defenders rushing the passer.
Morelli needed to use the information gathered by his head linesman, who was positioned to the left of the offensive formation on the sideline. The initial call was made by the back judge, standing behind the safeties.
Another common mistake is to assume that the defender who made the play was required to turn his head and play the ball. While this might be the optimal technique to play the position, it's not a legal requirement. Whether the contact between defender and receiver was more than "minimal" is another discussion.
The handling of the call was problematic. By announcing the penalty in AT&T Stadium before convening to deliberate on the play, it created a scenario where the decision seemed to backtrack on a previously decided call once Cowboys' players and coaches argued the flag.
Morelli acknowledged this was an issue.
"This information came and then the officials got together a little bit later, after it was given to me, the first information. It would have probably been smoother if we got together"
The head linesman who made the call has not given a statement explaining why he accepted the word of the official who called the contact "minimal," which resulted in overturning the flag. That remains the last piece to the controversial ending in Dallas.