DETROIT — Calvin Johnson didn’t complete the process of the catch. Jim Schwartz threw his challenge flag.
When people are racing to check the rulebook, that’s rarely a good sign for the Detroit Lions. This time it was a replay and a runoff that ended their chance at a win.
The Lions thought they’d scored the winning touchdown with 8 seconds remaining against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday on a short pass to Golden Tate, but he was ruled short of the goal line after a review.
Since the clock would have kept running if he’d been ruled down initially — and Detroit was out of timeouts — officials applied a 10-second runoff, ending the game and giving Atlanta a 30-26 victory .
“They ruled it correctly, and that’s the way it is,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “There were a lot of things I think we could’ve done better that we didn’t do well. So we’ve got to pick up the pieces.”
It was yet another instance in which the Lions were victimized by the application of a rule many people weren’t aware of.
In 2010, Johnson lost a potential game-winning touchdown because he didn’t maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire process of the catch.
Two years later, on Thanksgiving, the Lions gave up a long touchdown to Houston, even though the runner was clearly down around his 25-yard line.
The scoring play would have been reviewed automatically, but Schwartz — who was then Detroit’s coach — threw a challenge flag, which earned him a penalty and actually prevented the play from being reviewed.
In 2015, the Lions lost at Seattle when Johnson fumbled near the goal line and K.J. Wright of the Seahawks knocked the ball out of the end zone for a touchback.
That time, an obscure rule could have saved Detroit — if Wright had been flagged for illegally batting the ball, the Lions would have gotten it back. But officials didn’t call the penalty.
Sunday’s ending left the Lions frustrated. Replays showed Tate’s near-TD was very close, in terms of whether he was short of the end zone and whether he was down by contact. If he’d been ruled short right away, Detroit would have had a chance to rush to the line and try to run one more play.
“Obviously I wish I would’ve thrown it a foot higher,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “It’s a game of inches. Tough one to lose, great effort from our team.”
The Lions (2-1) lost in a matchup of unbeaten teams that largely lived up to its billing.
Atlanta (3-0) outgained Detroit 428-324, and the Lions never led, but three interceptions by Matt Ryan kept the game close.
Detroit was driving at the end when penalties for holding and offensive pass interference left the Lions facing first-and-30 from the 38.
But Atlanta’s Desmond Trufant committed a couple of costly penalties. He was called for holding to negate an interception, and a pass interference call against him gave the Lions first-and-goal from the 1 with 19 seconds left.
Stafford threw two incompletions, then his completion to Tate was ruled short of the end zone.
The Lions never got a fourth chance.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister