FOXBORO, Mass. — “That was the play that beat us, man. Right there. That play was the game.”

Thirty minutes after the Lions’ devastating 23-6 loss to New England Sunday, free safety Demetrious Johnson still was fuming over his interception return for a touchdown that was called back by the officials. More than any other single play, it determined the fortunes of this game.

It was late in the third quarter, Patriots ball second-and- eight from their 38. Quarterback Tony Eason dropped back to pass, and Johnson recognized the play as a tight-end option route.

“They’d run it a few times before,” Johnson said. “The tight end (in this case, Derrick Ramsey) hooks inside and has the option to stay there or to curl back out.”

Johnson said he waited until Eason released the pass — “he just floated it up there” — then stepped in front of Ramsey for the interception and sprinted 41 yards to the end zone. That touchdown — with the extra point — would have closed the Lions to 17-13.

Johnson was celebrating in the end zone when the cheer went up from the New England crowd.

Penalty. Lions. Defensive holding.

On Demetrious Johnson.

“I saw the flags but I figured it had to be on them,” Johnson said. “No way it was on me. No way. How could it be?”

But the officials ruled that Johnson had his arms around Ramsey before the interception. Admittedly, there was some confusion on the officials’ part. At first they called the penalty on No. 32, which would be Rick Kane, a running back who was on the bench. Then they changed the number to 21, Johnson’s number.

“It was a (bleep-bleep) call,” said Johnson, summing up the feeling from the Lions’ sideline.

The ball went back to the Patriots, who also got a first down, and they went on to kick a field goal to make it 20-6 in the fourth quarter. The Lions never threatened again.

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