ARLINGTON, Texas — Lions coach Jim Caldwell never got a good enough explanation about the penalty flag that got picked up.
Yep, the one that would have given Detroit a critical first down while still leading in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford "thought it was a good call at first," until the apparent pass interference penalty suddenly was no more.
As for Ndamukong Suh, he was so emotional about the 24-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC wild-card game that he left the podium in tears — only to return a minute later to finish talking about how the season suddenly ended.
"I'm speechless. ... I didn't expect this outcome," said Suh, who was later asked if the game had been stolen from the Lions (11-6).
"It's unfortunate for sure," he said. "We can't let just one play define the game."
Still, the Lions went from a potential first down to keep alive a possible clinching drive to a shanked punt and a go-ahead Dallas touchdown.
A flag was thrown, and referee Pete Morelli announced a defensive pass interference call. After a discussion with other officials, Morelli then announced, without explanation, there was no penalty.
"Not a good enough one," Caldwell said multiple times when asked if officials explained to him what happened. "I don't ever think it comes down to one call, but calls are crucial during games like this ... to have something so questionable that occurs, that's concerning."
Stafford said he was told that the defender made no contact with Pettigrew, though the tight end said that wasn't the case.
"I thought it was ridiculous, to be honest," Pettigrew said. "He ran through me, pretty much, trying to get back to the ball. To me, it was obvious."
Without the penalty, and still up 20-17, the Lions had fourth-and-1 at midfield. Stafford was on the field, but it quickly became clear he was trying to draw an offside call against Dallas, though Caldwell had considered going for it. The Cowboys didn't jump, Detroit took the delay of game and Sam Martin's punt then went only 10 yards.
"Obviously you look at the result of the punt, and you look at it a little differently," Caldwell said. "But we're up, we weren't behind."
They trailed after the Cowboys went 59 yards in 11 plays, including a 21-yard catch by Jason Witten on fourth-and-6. There were also two defensive holding calls, the second on a third-and-7 play, before Tony Romo threw his second touchdown pass to Terrance Williams with 2:32 left.
Dallas (13-4) wiped out an early two-touchdown deficit to advance to a divisional game in Green Bay, their first postseason visit there since a heartbreaking loss to the Packers in the Ice Bowl in 1967.
"You just have to stay in the moment and understand the game," said Romo, now 2-3 in the playoffs. "It doesn't end after the first quarter, second quarter. You just have to keep calm. I've played enough games to understand that. Maybe I didn't do that as well when I was younger."
The Lions went 99 yards for one of two first-quarter touchdowns, but Stafford couldn't get them in the end zone again. He fell to 0-2 in the playoffs three years after losing a wild-card game to New Orleans.
Dallas had to wait a little longer to celebrate after rookie DeMarcus Lawrence gave the Lions the ball back with a fumble following Anthony Spencer's sack that knocked the ball loose from Stafford, who was 28 of 42 for 323 yards playing against his hometown team.
Lawrence redeemed himself on the clincher, sacking Stafford on fourth down near midfield in the final minute.
"There's only going to be one happy team at the end of the year," Caldwell said, "And it's not going to be us."
Notes: The Lions have not won a playoff game since the 1991 season, when they beat Dallas. ... The Lions went up 14-0 on a drive that amounted to 99 3/4 yards. After Dekoda Watson ran into Martin to keep the drive alive, the 14-play series ended with Reggie Bush badly faking Orlando Scandrick on an 18-yard scoring run. ... NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray slogged his way to 75 yards on 19 carries against the NFL's best run defense, including a 1-yard plunge on fourth down that pulled Dallas to 20-14 late in the third quarter. ... Calvin Johnson, who had 329 yards receiving in a comeback win in Detroit in 2013, had 85 yards on five catches. Golden Tate had 89 yards on six grabs.
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