TOP 20 GAMES OF 2012

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Game 13: Texans at Lions Week 12

A Unique Forsett of Circumstances

Leaping?!

Nobody in the West L.A. sports bar I found myself in could quite understand the call.

It was Oct. 6, 2003. The Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in overtime on Monday Night Football. And Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt had just missed a game-winning attempt from 39 yards out that would’ve capped off one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. (Indy had erased a 21-point deficit in the final four minutes of regulation.)

But alas, the Bucs’ Simeon Rice was penalized for leaping on a teammate’s back in his attempt to block Vanderjagt’s ill-fated kick.

Line it up again from 29. Kick good. Good night, Tampa.

That was the last time I saw such an obscure rule have a huge effect on an NFL contest -- until the Houston Texans visited the Detroit Lions last Thanksgiving.

On this fateful Turkey Day, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz cost his team dearly when he was penalized for throwing the challenge flag on a play that already called for an automatic review. Per the rulebook, you can’t do that:

Section 9 Instant Replay

The League will employ a system of Instant Replay Review to aid officiating for reviewable plays as defined below. The following procedures will be used:

Coaches’ Challenge - In each game, a team will be permitted two challenges that will initiate Instant Replay reviews, except for plays when the on-field ruling is a score for either team, an interception, a fumble or backward pass that is recovered by an opponent or goes out of bounds through an opponent’s end zone, or a muffed scrimmage kick recovered by the kicking team. A team is also prohibited from challenging any ruling after the two - minute warning of each half, and throughout any overtime period. Each challenge will require the use of a team timeout. If a challenge is upheld, the timeout will be restored to the challenging team. A challenge will only be restored if a team is successful on both of its challenges, in which case it shall be awarded a third challenge, but a fourth challenge will not be permitted under any circumstances. A team may challenge an on - field ruling up until the next legal snap or kick. If there is a foul that delays the next snap, the team committing that foul will no longer be able to challenge the previous ruling. No challenges will be recognized from a team that has exhausted its timeouts. A team that is out of timeouts or has used all of its available challenges may not attempt to initiate an additional challenge.

Penalty: For initiating a challenge when a team is prohibited from doing so: Loss of 15 yards.

So, what happened? Let’s review:

Detroit was up two scores, at home, in the second half. Then, all of a sudden, Justin Forsett took a routine running play up the middle, absorbed some contact ... and 81 yards later, the Texans were right back in the ballgame.

OK, first off, Justin Forsett never runs the football 80-plus yards. But besides that, it sure looked like he was down about 75 yards short of the end zone. Seeing how every scoring play is automatically reviewed these days, Forsett’s scamper was due for a closer look.

But Schwartz couldn’t contain himself, chucking his own red handkerchief into the field of play.

Flag.

No, not the red one. The ref threw a yellow flag. Given the obscure rule detailed above -- minutiae on the level of "Leaping" -- Schwartz had committed an unsportsmanlike conduct foul. Call it a delay of game, call it not knowing the ins and outs of the rule book, call it a game-coster for the Lions. Whatever you want to call it, the consequence of such an action proved catastrophic. Schwartz had mistakenly asked for an automatically reviewed play to be reviewed. The result? No review whatsoever.

Huh?

Credit to Justin Forsett for playing to the whistle, but even the naked eye could clearly see his knee touched the ground before his scamper to the endzone.

Yep, Schwartz’s gaffe, because it was a penalty, automatically negated the review of the scoring play.

Forsett was clearly down, something he admitted postgame, but there was no going back. The touchdown counted, momentum swung and the Texas eventually went on to secure a 34-31 win in overtime.

Saying this play impacted the outcome of the game is almost as big an understatement as saying the rule was stupid in the first place. (It has since been changed -- big surprise.)

Texans-Lions featured over 1,000 yards of offense, with scores of huge plays, and yet the only thing anyone wanted to talk about was Forsett’s phantom touchdown.

Did You Know?: The Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving since 1945. Unfortunately, they haven’t won a game on the holiday since 2003.

Meanwhile, this was Houston’s first foray into Turkey Day play ... well, at least as the Texans. The Houston Oilers first played an NFC team on the holiday in 1979, when they beat the Dallas Cowboys, 30-24. It would turn out to be one of the best matchups in the Thanksgiving Classic, as the Cowboys were the two-time defending NFC champs and the Oilers were en route to their second consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance.

Indefensible: Poor Alan Ball. Calvin Johnson is flat-out impossible to stop at times.

First, Stafford hit Megatron on a go-route up the right sideline with Ball in man coverage. Ball was with the All-Pro receiver stride for stride, but it didn’t matter. Johnson reached out and stabbed it. That led to a Mike Thomas touchdown catch and a 14-7 Lions lead.

Sometimes, even perfect coverage can’t stop Calvin Johnson. He possesses all of the tools for Matthew Stafford to literally throw him open on plays like this.

Later in the second quarter, Ball was helpless on a Stafford-to-Megatron back-shoulder fade in the end zone. I mean, Ball was in perfect coverage. Didn’t matter. Johnson elevated and snagged the ball just over the fingertips of Ball. A guy literally couldn’t play it any better than the Texans corner did. But to no avail: 21-14, Lions.

Boneheaded I: One year after a Thanksgiving Day ejection for stomping on Green Bay Packers OG Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ndamukong Suh was involved in another controversy, this one stemming from an errant kick to Matt Schaub’s manhood. On what looked like a routine pass rush in the first quarter, Suh was taken down at the feet of the Houston quarterback. As the Lions defensive tackle rolled over, his foot swung in the direction of Schaub’s jewels, scoring a direct hit.

Suh seemingly crossed the line later in the half, taking Schaub down rather harshly well after the ball had been out.

Were these plays "dirty?" Tough call. Neither play drew a flag, but the NFL did fine Suh $30,000 for the groin shot. Given Suh’s track record, it’s awfully tough to presume innocence.

Boneheaded II: Down the stretch, the Lions blew so many opportunities to take care of the Texans and avoid losing a third straight game (in what ended up being an eight-game losing streak to end the season):

  • With Detroit up 31-24, cornerback Chris Houston dropped a sure interception that hit him right in the hands. It was especially egregious because the Texans had just moved into the Lions territory. The Texans capitalized on the mulligan, tying the game with an Arian Foster 1-yard plunge a short time later.
  • The Lions moved the ball to Houston’s 32 -- field goal range -- on the first drive of overtime. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew celebrated the moment by promptly fumbling the ball away.
  • Later in OT, Houston once again tried to give away the game, but Kyle Vanden Bosch wouldn’t take it. Schaub threw a bad ball right to the Lions veteran -- inside the Texans’ 10, no less -- but the defensive end’s hands just wouldn’t cooperate.
  • That’s OK -- Jason Hanson made up for the miscue by doinking a field goal off the crossbar a few minutes later.

Historical Symmetry: Exactly 50 years prior -- literally to the day (Nov. 22, 1962) -- the Lions romped the Packers in the most famous pre-merger Thanksgiving Day Classic.

The special aspect of that particular game wasn’t the excitement level, but rather the stunning result. The 1962 Packers were easily Vince Lombardi’s best Green Bay squad, and probably the franchise’s greatest team of all time. Yet Detroit destroyed them. The final score was 26-14, but that’s a misnomer. The Lions were up 26-zip in the fourth before tapping the old brakes.

That Packers club would go on to beat the New York Giants in the 1962 NFL Championship -- the first game NFL Films ever shot.

Why This Game is No. 13: By the time the Lions annually kick off on Thanksgiving Day, most NFL fans are knee deep in turkey dressing, heavily buttered rolls and their Aunt Dorothy’s Frito salad. (OK, so "Dorothy" is actually my aunt, but you get the point. And yes, her Frito salad is redonkulous.) Bottom line: Sometimes people aren’t completely tuned into this ballgame.

Well, not this past year. This game demanded your attention. In fact, of all the games I watched this past season -- and I pretty much saw them all -- Texans-Lions Week 12 was the single one where I honestly had no idea who was going to win. Really, I had no clue. What an exciting game.

Visit NFL Game Center for more on Texans at Lions.

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