Week 15: Patriots at Steelers
It was a pivotal replay call that could be a linchpin in where the AFC Championship game is played.
An apparent Steelers touchdown to seal a win was under a lengthy review — there was no question that tight end Jesse James had crossed the goal prior to contact by the defense. However, as James landed in the end zone, the ball spun in his hands, which brings the control of the ball under consideration.
The catch process, which fans have heard repeatedly with an expected widespread misunderstanding, would be that James has to control the pass, then get two feet down, and, since he is going to the ground, survive the ground with control of the ball. James’s elbow contacts the ground causing the ball move, which is allowable and does not mean loss of control. His hand also involuntarily separates from the ball, which does mean loss of control when paired with the ball moving. James has a case for maintaining control of the ball if one of those elements occurs, but not both of them.
It seems that James had been able to cradle the ball in his hand and pin it to his body to regain control. This is critical, because the ball can touch the ground — if it is in a firm grip and control — and be ruled complete. Replay is not going to re-officiate the play, rather it is going to make a determination if there is clear and obvious evidence to change the ruling of a catch.
In the referee’s hands, this review might be ruled as being lacking conclusive evidence. In the nascent centralized replay system, with all determinations made by the same three individuals, senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron says that the evidence is there:
— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) December 18, 2017
It is likely, based on the sheer gravity of the call, that Riveron made the decision in replay.
The boxing referee and real-life and reality-TV judge Mills Lane has been attributed to the quote, “I’m not final because I’m right; I’m right because I’m final.” So the correct call is, based on the level of microscoping employed under the centralized replay, that this is an incomplete pass. It may not be the same standard that applied to replay 3 years ago or 13 years ago. There is a seed of doubt on whether James controlled the ball, so it still comes down to a player element. By creating a situation where a judgment call was necessary in order to sustain the touchdown — it would have been inconclusive, at best — the call is not on the officials or replay, but still in the player’s hands. Or hand.
Pool report with referee Tony Corrente
Q: On the touchdown that was called back, what was the review?
Corrente: We we’re inside of 2 minutes and in order to have a completed pass, a receiver must have five going to the ground. In this case, he had control of the football but he was going to the ground. As he hit the ground, the ball begin to roll and rotate and the ball hit the ground and that is the end of it at that point.
Q: [whether it matters that he was touched or that his knee was down]
Corrente: He lost complete control of the football that was the ruling out of replay.
Q: [regarding the terminology that used in the announcement]
Corrente: I said that he just “didn’t survive the ground.” That’s the terminology that we use in the officiating. You have to survive the ground, which means that you have to maintain control the football.
Q: [whether this is similar to the controversial catch reversal against Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant in the 2014 postseason.]
Corrente: I can’t comment on Dez Bryant. I can only tell you that in this case he went to the ground and had lost control of the ball. The ball hit the ground and that means, at that point, it’s an incomplete pass whether he was touched or not.