How the Pass Interference No-Call Helped the Cowboys Beat the Lions

What would have happened if the refs decided to call pass interference on Detroit's late-game 3rd-and-1?

It was the biggest play of the Lions' season. With a little over eight minutes to go against the Cowboys in the opening round of the playoffs, Matthew Stafford dropped back to pass on 3rd-and-1 from the Dallas 46-yard line. His arm moved forward, and the ball sailed towards Brandon Pettigrew.

Defensive pass interference.

Or, so we thought.

After the world assumed a defensive PI call was going to be made -- the giant yellow "flag" notification appeared on television screens, after all -- the referees took it back. There was no foul on the play. The Lions then faced a 4th-and-1, took a delay of game, and punted the football.

Had the Lions gotten the pass interference call, our win probability numbers showed that Detroit would have had a 79.1% chance of winning the game. Instead, the no-call and the subsequent botched punt led to a near 50-50 probability split at the start of the Cowboys' next drive.

Tony Romo got to work, and marched the Cowboys down the field for the go-ahead score. On the drive, he converted a huge 4th-and-6 from the Detroit 42 (Yes, he really is clutch). This play was the one we should be talking about -- while the world will be dissecting the non-pass interference call on the prior drive, this was the play that impacted the game most. With the first down pick-up, Dallas went from a 23.19% win probability to having a 63.17% chance of winning.

Yes, if that Pettigrew play resulted in defensive pass interference, the Lions' chances of winning would have skyrocketed. But Detroit also made mistakes after the mess. For instance, Jim Caldwell opted to punt the football on what could have been a 4th-and-1 on the following play. And although hindsight's 20/20, that punt netted a grand total of five yards for the Lions. Not great, Bob!

Detroit could have also, you know, stopped Romo and company on fourth down. But that didn't happen.

Alas, instead of talking about a clutch performance from a quarterback who's been historically destroyed for failing under pressure, this week's coverage of the best opening round game will feature clips of poor officiating and controversial calls. Only in the NFL, I suppose.

If you're curious, here's what the win probability graph looked like for the game, courtesy of the numberFire Twitter account: