Maybe the referee made a mistake. Maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers did.
All that's known for sure is that a game of X's and O's came down to heads and tails.
In a Thanksgiving contest marked by a bizarre coin flip to start overtime, the Detroit Lions escaped with a 19-16 victory over the Steelers on a 42-yard field goal by Jason Hanson 2:52 into the extra period Thursday.
On the midfield coin flip, Jerome Bettis of Pittsburgh called tails. But referee Phil Luckett told pool reporters after the game Bettis called "heads-tails" and Luckett went with the first thing he heard.
"I did not say `heads-tails,"' Bettis said. "That is a lie. That's a bald-faced lie."
Detroit cornerback Robert Bailey, who was not part of the coin toss, said he heard Bettis call one thing and teammate Carnell Lake call another.
"To me, it sounded like one guy called heads and one guy called tails," Bailey said. "That way, no matter what happens, you can argue. It's an old trick."
In any event, the Steelers kicked off and never saw the ball again.
"I'm not saying we lost the game because of the officials," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "But it's a shame that this is the center of focus after a game like that."
Earlier, two controversial calls led to the first of Norm Johnson's two first-quarter field goals for Pittsburgh (7-5). But, clearly, the biggest disputed call came at the start of overtime, giving the Lions (5-7) the right to receive.
"I've never seen anything as blatant as that," Lake said. "I even looked at the Lions and they were like, `Wow.' They didn't say anyhing because they wanted the ball. The ref made a bad decision."
After a 21-yard runback by Terry Fair, the Lions went 21 yards in seven plays, keyed by a 28-yard pass from Charlie Batch to Herman Moore and a face-mask call against Chris Oldham. After Barry Sanders was stopped for no gain on second down, the Lions elected to go for the field goal on third down.
| Jason Hanson's, right, 42-yard field goal in overtime keeps the Lions' playoff hopes alive. (AP) |
"This game was everything rolled into one: Thanksgiving and the Steelers and a great win," said Batch, who grew up in Homestead, Pa., about 10 minutes from Three Rivers Stadium.
Sanders gained just 33 yards on 20 carries but still became just the second back in NFL history to rush for more than 15,000 yards. He now has 15,003 and trails only Walter Payton, who holds the record with 16,726 yards.
Johnson, who had field goals of 30 and 38 yards in the second quarter, capped a 74-yard, 15-play drive with a 25-yarder to tie it 16-16 with one second remaining in regulation.
It was a big loss for the Steelers, who started the day one game behind Jacksonville in the AFC Central.
"What makes me mad is when you fight and scratch for 60 minutes out there, and the game is decided by guys who wear striped shirts," Cowher said. "There's something wrong about that."
The Steelers built a 13-3 lead in the third quarter when Kordell Stewart, who hit 21 of 36 passes for 225 yards, tossed a 24-yard TD pass to Will Blackwell.
Batch, who was 16 of 23 for 236 yards despite sitting out several minutes with a neck injury, connected with Moore for a 21-yard TD pass to make it 13-13 with 6:36 left in the fourth quarter.
Hanson, who missed a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter, was good from 45, 51 and 35 yards before his winner.
Replays indicated officials erred on both calls that set up Johnson's first field goal.
Stewart appeared to have lost a fumble on a 7-yard scamper, but he was ruled down. Later in the same drive, Bailey appeared to pick off Stewart's pass that bounced off Courtney Hawkins' chest. But it was ruled incomplete, and six plays later Johnson kicked a 30-yarder.
Germane Crowell's fumble was recovered by Lethon Flowers three plays later, setting up a 38-yard field goal and a 6-0 Steelers lead.
The Lions had a scare late in the second quarter when Batch threw a block on Darren Perry and had to leave with 3:14 left in the second quarter. He returned on the Lions' second series of the third quarter.
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