(Reuters) - The NFL would have preferred officials stuck with an initial pass interference penalty instead of reversing the call in a controversial decision that cast a shadow over Sunday's playoff game between Dallas and Detroit.
Clinging to a 20-17 lead with about eight minutes left in the game, Detroit looked to have extended the pivotal drive when Cowboys defender Anthony Hitchens was initially flagged for pass interference while defending Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
However, instead of getting a crucial first down well into Dallas territory, the Lions were forced to punt after officials reversed the call, determining there had been no foul.
Dallas took over and went on a game-winning drive on their ensuing possession for a 24-20 victory.
NFL head of officials Dean Blandino said on Monday that picking up the penalty flag was "debatable" and that he would have preferred the crew stuck with its initial call.
Blandino stressed that the decision was a "judgment call."
"I think it's debatable," Blandino told NFL.com. "There was a left hand on (Pettigrew's) shoulder, but does that significantly hinder the receiver's ability to make the catch?
"Looking at all the angles, we're not convinced it is or it isn't. I think had the flag not been thrown, I think we still would have debated it.
"I'd prefer that they kept it down, having the flag down," Blandino added. "But like I said it's a tight judgment call that could have went either way."
With the victory, the Cowboys advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs where they will play the host Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Blandino said the way the play was handled by the officiating crew fueled the controversy.
"Certainly making the announcement that there's a penalty, and then changing the call after the fact creates some issues that we could have avoided," he said.
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said the NFL contacted him following Sunday's game but did not go into specifics of the conversation regarding the pass interference reversal.
"The big thing is, I'm angry about it, and trying to keep my composure here, but I’m probably more angry for our team, and the fans," said Caldwell.
"That's the thing that stirs your blood, our organization, the Ford family, that’s hard to swallow. ... This team is important to me, and the best for these men is what’s important to me as well. In that particular case I just think it’s tough.”
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)