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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Before the first penalty, David Bakhtiari approached umpire Jeff Rice, frustrated, confused and downright incredulous, and asked a simple but potentially game-altering question.
All night, Detroit Lions defensive end Trey Flowers used the same move against the Green Bay Packers’ All-Pro left tackle. Flowers would jam his hands high and in, near Bakhtiari’s chin strap. Whether Flowers’ hands were at Bakhtiari’s neck and face area or not was perhaps open to perspective.
Bakhtiari, naturally a little biased, thought there was no doubt.
“I went over to the ref,” Bakhtiari recalled in a corner of the Packers locker room, before slipping out into the night after his team’s 23-22 comeback win Monday, “I said, ‘Hey, are we not calling hands to the face again? Because the past three plays, I’ve been staring at the sky.’ And he’s like, you know, he’s not looking at my side, but I at least made him aware.”
Bakhtiari, perhaps, made Rice a little too aware.
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Flowers was called for a pair of illegal-hands-to-the-face penalties that went a long way toward deciding Monday night’s game.
The first came after a third-down sack with 10:16 left in the fourth quarter, a play that would have forced the Packers to punt. Careful review of the replay – something referee Clete Blakeman couldn’t benefit from last night – showed Flowers’ left hand clasp the inside of Bakhtiari’s right shoulder. At the end of the play, Flowers’ hand slips off Bakhtiari’s shoulder and briefly brushes by the left tackle’s facemask. Flowers’ hand didn’t linger at Bakhtiari’s facemask, and he never grabbed the facemask, but there was some contact.
The Packers scored three plays later when quarterback Aaron Rodgers dropped a dime to receiver Allen Lazard for a 35-yard touchdown. A nine-point deficit – with the Lions poised to take possession – was suddenly down to two.
“It was hands to the chest initially,” Flowers said. “I was doing it all game. I didn’t know that was a flag to the chest. I didn’t think hands to the chest was a penalty. I thought hands to the face (was a penalty).
“I had him right here to the chest, and the second time I changed it. I don’t think that was a penalty.”
The second time – and, without question, the more egregious call of the two – came after a third-down incompletion inside the two-minute warning. It appeared the Packers would be forced to attempt their potential go-ahead field goal with 1:36 left. The Lions, who were without timeouts, would have a chance to take the lead back.
Watching the play live, Bakhtiari’s head jars back and upward. On replay, Flowers’ left hand clasps the inside of Bakhtiari’s left shoulder. It never contacts Bakhtiari’s facemask or neck.
Blakeman acknowledged he had spoken with Rice about the second penalty. In Rice’s mind, Blakeman said, Flowers had prolonged contact to Bakhtiari’s neck and face area – something replay shows did not happen.
“I can definitely tell you,” Bakhtiari said, “for a good portion of the game, I was getting my throat punched in, and I was looking up at the sky a fair amount. If you think about it, if your hand is in my throat, you’re probably hitting my facemask, which is pushing my head up in the sky.”
In the past two weeks, Bakhtiari felt he was on the unfortunate end of “pretty egregious” holding penalties. After a questionable penalty one week earlier in Dallas, Bakhtiari was again called for holding in the first quarter Monday night. On the play, Bakhtiari double-team blocked Flowers with left guard Elgton Jenkins.
“I’m sitting there,” Bakhtiari said, “I asked him, ‘So what, how is that holding? What did I do?’ He goes, ‘Your hand was across him.’ I’m like, ‘No, it was not.’ And he goes, ‘Well, I thought your hand was across him.’”
Rice was perhaps left guessing again in the fourth quarter. This time, Bakhtiari and the Packers benefited from the calls.
Asked inside the locker room if he thought the Lions had a legitimate gripe, Bakhtiari didn’t say yes. He also didn’t say no.
“They’re going to go both ways,” Bakhtiari said. “You’re going to get calls for you, and you’re going to get calls against you. Fortunately, those two calls went in our favor, and from my vantage point, I’m just looking up at the sky.
“It can go both ways. That’s the way I’m going to look at it. that’s what I’m going to say.”
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