Patriots players cryptically reacted to the controversial penalties against Trey Flowers

“I didn’t think hands to the chest was a penalty,” Flowers told reporters after the game.

Detroit Lions defensive end Trey Flowers (90) during warm ups against the Kansas City Chiefs prior to an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. (AP Images/Rick Osentoski)
Detroit Lions defensive end Trey Flowers warms up before a game last month against the Kansas City Chiefs. –Rick Osentoski / AP

Trey Flowers apparently wasn’t the only one confounded by the officiating in Monday night’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.

A couple of the Lions defensive end’s former teammates on the New England Patriots cryptically expressed skepticism after he was called for two controversial “hands-to-the-face” penalties during the 23-22 loss to the Packers.

Following the second penalty during the Packers’ game-winning drive late Monday night, Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower tweeted “[I don’t know] bout that.” Devin McCourty shortly thereafter followed up with the abbreviation for “shaking my head” and three face-palm emojis in a tweet from the Twitter account he shares with his twin brother and fellow Patriots defensive back, Jason.

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While neither tweet directly referenced the game, their meanings were hard to mistake.

As the Detroit Free Press reported, Lions players and fans were enraged by a trio of costly calls during the Packers’ comeback win — including the two hands-to-the-face penalties on Flowers, which extended Green Bay’s final two drives and effectively decided the game. On both plays, Flowers appeared to grab the collar of Packers offensive lineman David Bakhtiari’s pads. The penalties drew widespread criticism from ESPN commentators, former NFL players, and even some Packers fans.

“I didn’t think hands to the chest was a penalty,” Flowers told reporters after the game. “I thought hands to the face, but I had him right here in the chest.”

The 26-year-old defensive lineman — who had reportedly never been called for a hands-to-the-face penalty during his five-year career before Monday — said he even changed his hand placement after the first penalty, which nullified a third-down sack for the Lions (the Packers scored a touchdown three plays later). Still, he was called for the same foul during the Packers’ next drive, which again reversed a third-down stop for the Lions and allowed the Packers to run out the clock before Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal.

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“They saw something different than what actually happened, and they called what they thought they saw,” Flowers said after the game. “I was doing it all game. I didn’t know that was a flag — to the chest — so I could change it to right here. He called it again.”

“Hands-to-the-face” is not the official name of the penalty; after the game, referee Clete Blakeman told a pool reporter that Flowers was flagged for “illegal use of hands.” For defensive linemen, the NFL rulebook defines the penalty as when a player creates “direct and forcible, or prolonged” contact with  an offensive lineman’s neck, face, or head.

“To be a foul, we basically need some forceful contact that’s prolonged to the head and neck area of the defender,” Blakeman said. “So in [umpire Jeff Rice’s] mind [Flowers] had pinned him back, it was prolonged, and that’s what created the foul.”

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s vice president of football operations, told reporters Tuesday during the league’s owners meetings that the second penalty was “not something you want to see called.”

“The foul wasn’t there,” Vincent said, according to multiple reporters.