NFL playoffs: Officials pick up flag, and Cowboys pick up win

NFL playoffs: Officials pick up flag, and Cowboys pick up win
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, left, speaks with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning after they met in a game Oct. 20, 2013. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck will meet again.

The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will get a playoff rematch too, meeting for the third time in four postseasons.


But it was the do-over afforded the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday that reverberated throughout the NFL.

On a third down in the fourth quarter, with Detroit clinging to a narrow lead, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a pass toward tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who was backpedaling at the Dallas 30 with linebacker Anthony Hitchens in his face. The ball plunked Hitchens squarely in the back, and he was whistled for pass interference.

Several seconds later, however, officials changed their minds and, without explanation, picked up the flag.

Detroit had to punt, which turned out to be a 10-yard shank, the Cowboys got the ball back in great field position, and Tony Romo directed the winning touchdown drive in a 24-20 victory, setting up a second-round game at Green Bay on Sunday.

Lions Coach Jim Caldwell said he got an explanation from officials on the disappearing flag, but it was unsatisfactory. "Not good enough," he said.

The defeat kept Detroit's streak of playoff futility intact, with the Lions losing their eighth consecutive postseason game since 1991.

For Dallas, it was the second postseason victory since 1997, and another chance for Romo to refashion his reputation as a strong end-of-the-season quarterback who fails to get it done in the playoffs.

Sunday will mark the first postseason meeting of Denver's Manning and Luck, the Indianapolis quarterback following in — and sometimes surpassing — his footsteps with the Colts. Luck's team beat Manning's in Indianapolis last season, and the Manning-led Broncos returned the favor by knocking off the Colts in Denver in this fall's opening Sunday night game.

"I don't know if it's about hype; I know it's just another playoff game," Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas said Sunday. "I can't answer that question for him, but I think he'll be fine. We had them the first game of the season and he was fine. It's a playoff game so it's a little bit different because if you lose, you're done and if you win, you keep going."

Luck, who led the Colts to a 26-10 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday by passing for 376 yards, likewise downplayed the spotlight-stealing matchup.

"It's not the quarterback-versus-quarterback thing," the Colts quarterback said. "We're not on the field at the same time. I have a lot of respect for him, what he does [and] what he still does is amazing. He's a stud. I'll worry about the Denver defense, that's what I worry about."

With Baltimore winning at Pittsburgh in the first round, the Ravens will play at the Patriots on Saturday.

That's a familiar setting and situation for Baltimore, which won a wild-card game there during the 2009 playoffs, and played a pair of conference title games at New England in 2011 and 2012. The Ravens lost the first of those and won the second, going on to beat San Francisco in the Super Bowl.

Dallas beating Detroit means Carolina — which knocked off Arizona — will play Saturday night at Seattle.


This will be the fourth game between the Seahawks and Panthers since the 2012 season. Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champion, emerged victorious in each of the past three regular seasons, but the games were close and low-scoring — 16-12, 12-7 and 13-9.