By most accounts, the Arizona Cardinals’ defense played its best game of the season in its win Sunday over the Detroit Lions. But it was a special-teams play — one that came with a bit of controversy — that many people were talking about after the game.
Leading 14-6 with 12 minutes to play, the Cardinals decided to punt on fourth down from the Lions’ 36-yard line. Arizona cornerback Justin Bethel caught the ball at the Detroit 1-yard line and then threw it forward before he fell into the end zone to avoid a touchback.
Lions receiver Jeremy Ross picked up the loose ball and returned it to the Arizona 46-yard line. But the play was challenged by Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who contended Bethel possessed the ball long enough for the play to be ruled dead.
The officiating crew agreed with Arians and reversed the call, leading to a disagreement between former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira, who thought the play should have stood as called on the field, and current NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino.
In ARZ when the kicking team possesses the ball it is dead by rule. #28 had possession and threw it back. Different than batting it back.
— Dean Blandino (@DeanBlandino) November 16, 2014
Of course, Arians preferred the latter interpretation Sunday.
“Their rule has been back and forth a couple of different times now. If you have sole possession of the ball and throw it forward, the ball is dead. If he batted it, that’s a whole different story. But we had clear possession,” Arians told Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday.
“The referees knew it was a challengeable play. Once we got that confirmed, then we made the challenge and obviously won it.”
Bethel nearly stepped on the goal line while fielding the punt, which would have resulted in a touchback. After Ross’ return, Arians said he gladly would’ve accepted that result, as well.
“For sure,” he said. “Like I said, I communicated with (the officials) and they assured me it was a reviewable play, and if he had possession, then we would win (the challenge).”
The successful challenge resulted in a 53-yard swing. Instead of beginning their drive in Arizona territory, the Lions were moved back all the way to their own 1-yard line.
Detroit’s subsequent 10-play, 52-yard drive fizzled out when quarterback Matthew Stafford’s fourth-down pass intended for wide receiver Calvin Johnson fell incomplete.