The play in question came with just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Patriots down by 8, driving for a touchdown to tie the score. Just before the snap the officials signaled a time out for the Lions. The problem was the Lions had no time outs left. Tom Brady was trying to run a hurry-up offense when the whistle was blown and threw his hands up in frustration as the officials thwarted Brady's advantage of using the hurry-up offense.
After the play head umpire Jeff Triplett explained that there was no time out called, and no penalty was called on the Lions. The delay allowed the Lions time to change personnel and regroup when the Patriots had them off balance at the goal line. In what could have been a pivotal point in the game, the unusual move by the referees not to penalize Detroit for calling a time out they didn't have drew the ire of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick who demanded an explanation.
"Obviously they made a mistake," Belichick said in his post game press conference. "Whether they would admit that or not, I don't know, but they obviously made one. Evidently they lost track of what the situation was."
In a postgame interview, Triplett explained the decision not to penalize Detroit for that play. Triplett took responsibility for the blown call, but explained that the guidelines from the league make it clear that there should be no penalty for the infraction outside of the final two minutes.
The following is from the post game pool report:
The question is on the play on the goal line, two-yard line, a timeout was called by Detroit and they were out of timeouts. Why no punishment?
Jeff Tripplett: The rule is real plain. It's in the book. Any excess timeout granted in error outside of two minutes, we don't penalize. We just put them back on the field and let them play on. The only penalty would be if it were a trying to freeze the kicker [situation]. In that situation, there would be a penalty, but that's the rule. That's what I explained to the coaches.
So conceivably a team could do that?
JT: If they did that kind of in an unfair act or something and I think in this situation our guy just granted the timeout in error. So, best to ignore it, best to play on. We granted the timeout in error. We just put them back over the ball and went on.
So basically it was your mistake to grant it?
JT: It was our crew mistake for granting the excess timeout in error.
But there is no punishment?
JT: There is no punishment for our error in that situation.
The result of the non call was that the Patriots maintained possession on the two yard line, only to score on the very next play. A two-point conversion later and the game was tied. The Patriots went on to win the game 28-21.