Lee Dyer ends 12th NFL season with play to remember

Lee Dyer of Chattanooga finished his 12th season as an NFL official Sunday, and he didn't go unnoticed.

Dyer was the back judge in Dallas during the Cowboys' 24-20 win over Detroit and threw a flag for pass interference on Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who was guarding Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The flag would have given the Lions, who were leading 20-17 with 8:18 remaining, a first down inside the Dallas 30-yard line.

It was announced as pass interference and an automatic first down, but officials then met and decided no infraction had occurred. Detroit opted to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Dallas 46, and Sam Martin shanked a 10-yard kick.

"I thought it was ridiculous, to be honest," Pettigrew told reporters after the game. "He ran through me, pretty much, trying to get back to the ball. To me, it was obvious."

Contacted Monday evening after he returned to Chattanooga, Dyer said he was unable to discuss the play due to NFL policy.

Dean Blandino, the NFL's head of officials, said Monday afternoon on NBC Sports Radio's "Pro Football Talk Live" that interference was debatable but that holding should have been called because Hitchens grabbed Pettigrew's jersey. Had holding been called, the Lions would have had a first down at the Dallas 41.

Blandino also said the crew erred in announcing the penalty before having a discussion.

In games in which there is a question about the officiating, the NFL allows a pool reporter to talk with the referee. Pete Morelli was the referee in Dallas and explained the decision Sunday evening.

"The back judge threw his flag for defensive pass interference," Morelli said. "We got other information from another official from a different angle that thought the contact was minimal and didn't warrant pass interference. He thought it was face-guarding."

Face-guarding, when a defender raises his hands to block a receiver's vision without playing the ball, is a penalty in college football but not in the NFL.

Sunday's game was the fifth career playoff assignment for Dyer, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga baseball player. He worked San Francisco's wild-card weekend win at Green Bay last January.

After working Chattanooga-area high school games from 1979 to 1988, Dyer officiated Southern Conference games from 1989 to 1997 and Southeastern Conference games from 1998 to 2002. Dyer's debut game in the SEC was Tennessee's 34-33 triumph at Syracuse, in which he threw a flag on Syracuse for pass interference in the final two minutes.

That call extended Tennessee's game-winning drive in its eventual national championship season, and former league coordinator of officials Bobby Gaston supported Dyer's call after reviewing it. A story surfaced Monday on Syracuse.com linking Dyer to that 1998 contest.

Dyer made news in the NFL in November 2009, when then-Cincinnati receiver Chad Johnson grabbed a $1 bill from the Bengals sideline and was shown on camera trying to offer it to Dyer as a bribe. Dyer had ruled an incomplete pass due to Johnson being out of bounds before coming back in and making a catch, and replays confirmed his ruling.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.