NFL head of officials Dean Blandino said Monday that the non-call on pass interference against Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens was debatable, but holding definitely should have been called on the play.
Blandino, speaking on NBC Sports Radio's "Pro Football Talk Live," said the officiating crew erred by announcing a penalty and then picking up the flag. Ideally, he said, the crew would have discussed the play and then announced that there was no penalty on the play. If the crew had handled the situation in this manner, "it would have mitigated some of the response to this," he said.
Blandino said that when he reviewed the play, it appeared as a "judgment call that could have gone either way." But he saw a clear "jersey grab" by Hitchens that should have resulted in a defensive holding call that "should have been called."
The 5-yard defensive holding call would have given the Lions a first down, as the play came on a Matthew Stafford pass on third-and-1 from the Dallas 46. The Lions lined up on fourth down but eventually punted after failing to draw the Cowboys offside. Dallas scored the eventual winning points in the 24-20 wild-card win on the ensuing drive.
There has been debate about whether the makeup of the officiating crew in the playoffs, where "All-Star" crews are put together for the games, helped to cause the confusion on the play. Blandino said he doesn't think "that was ultimately the factor that led to this situation happening." He said there are "pros and cons" to having All-Star crews versus the crews that have worked together the entire season, but in the end it's a moot point because "most of these officials have worked together at some point in their career."
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant came onto the field without his helmet to argue the initial pass-interference call Sunday, an act that had many wondering why he wasn't flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. But Blandino said that Bryant's actions weren't an automatic penalty, as the rule against players taking their helmets off on the field applies only to players in the game at that time.
"The ref really wasn't listening to what I was saying," Bryant said Sunday. "I gave him my opinion. I thought it was a bad call. He was blocking me out and telling me to get back (to the sidelines) and the coaches, they were grabbing me. Since the play was dead, I thought it was OK."
The official on Sunday had "discretion" to decide whether Bryant's actions warranted a penalty and decided against it, although Blandino said he would have supported a penalty on the Cowboys' star receiver if one had been called.
Blandino was also asked about his presence on a Cowboys party bus in August and perceptions that he is biased toward owner Jerry Jones' team.
He said the bus incident is something that "happened," but it has nothing to do with how Sunday's game was officiated.
"People can believe what they want to believe, but one thing had nothing to do with the other," he said.
Information from ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins contributed to this report.