NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Monday that his infamous party bus incident from August "had nothing to do" with the controversial no-call in Sunday's NFC Wild Card game between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions.
“That’s something that, it happened, one has nothing to do with the other. I understand why some people might look at that,” Blandino said, according to Pro Football Talk. “But it’s just something that has nothing to do with how the game was officiated.”
Blandino was referencing an August video from TMZ.com that showed a man looking very much like himself on a party bus with Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, son of team owner Jerry Jones. That would indicate an obvious conflict of interest, and Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reported shortly thereafter that NFL and team officials were "irate" after seeing the video. Blandino, however, was never reprimanded.
In Sunday's game, the Lions were driving midway through the fourth quarter with a 20-17 lead. On a third-and-1 from the Cowboys' 46-yard line, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a pass up the left sideline for tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Cowboys rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens was defending Pettigrew and never turned around to face the football before running into him.
Referee Pete Morelli whistled Hitchens for pass interference, but officials quickly reversed the call without explanation. After unsuccessfully trying to draw the Cowboys offsides on fourth down, the Lions punted. The Cowboys scored the go-ahead touchdown on the subsequent possession, when quarterback Tony Romo engineered an 11-play, 59-yard drive that ended with an eight-yard pass to Terrance Williams.
In an interview with Around the NFL on Monday, Blandino said the decision to overturn Morelli's initial penalty was a "judgment call," but that he would have preferred the crew stick with its initial call.
"I think it's debatable," Blandino said. "There was a left hand on (Brandon Pettigrew's) shoulder, but does that significantly hinder the receiver's ability to make the catch? Looking at all the angles, we're not convinced it is or it isn't. I think had the flag not been thrown, I think we still would have debated it."
"I certainly could have supported it if they left the flag down. I would have supported the foul. But I think it's a close judgment call where you have two officials with differing opinions on it."
"I'd prefer that they kept it down, having the flag down," Blandino said. "But like I said it's a tight judgment call that could have went either way."
Blandino also addressed Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who ran onto the field from the sidelines without his helmet to protest the initial call. That could have drawn a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, but did not.
Blandino said on Monday that while running onto the field is not necessarily an "automatic call," he would have supported a penalty on Bryant.
The Cowboys face the Packers at Green Bay on Sunday for a NFC Divisional Playoff game. Carolina will travel to Seattle on Saturday for the other NFC Divisional game.
- Mike Fiammetta