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Steelers reversed TD threaded a line of conclusive evidence

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:

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.

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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21 thoughts on “Steelers reversed TD threaded a line of conclusive evidence

  1. The receiver went to the ground on his knee whilr maintainig control of the ball. I suggest the receiver made a second move to cross the goal lunging (i.e, hewas a runner when crossing thr goal for the touchdown. Had he been in the foed, it would have been a fumble recovered by the posessor. Clearly possesion rules need more refinement. I do not buy any ruling that takes more than a minute to review and then is over turned. That smacks of a hunch or possible fraud.

  2. Two items which Ben chooses not to address.

    First, this is the same Tony Corrente that made the reversal of the Austin Sefarian Jenkins TD for the Jets against the Patriots. Really? Does Tony Corrente have an issue here? Did Ben not find that fact relevant? Pretty shoddy work, Ben!

    Second, this crew and replay have been a mess all year on replay. The call today. The call against the Jets in the Jets – Pats game and who can forget the insane touchback call in the Bears Packers game in week 10 resulting from a John Fox challenge. All Tony Corrente! Oh, guess which crew has the lone female replay official… yup, Tony Corrente.

    Pretty safe to say the league should not let Corrente work any more Pats games.

  3. No problem with the ruling as it’s correct based on the rule. However, the rule is poorly crafted – it’s a dumb rule.

    Also, how does the league feel about PAT being called for two penalties for four yards while PIT was called for six for 63 yards? Lop sided to say the least and gave the PAT a big leg up at critical junctures.

  4. Clearly this is a case of a bad rule/interpretation.

    The penalty disparity is a problem.

    The receiver being interfered with on the fake spike play followed by the officials swallowing their whistles was inexcusable.

    The Artie Burns PI call against Gronkowski to set up the Pats field goal to get it down to 5 was weak as hell, and there’s no way to justify calling that and not call the clear interference on the fake spike play.

    This was a game where the team that was clearly superior did not win, and unfortunately the perception, with a reasonable amount of accuracy, is that the officials played a significant role in that.

  5. There is absolutely no question whatsoever – it was a completed catch. The receiver had control of the ball, tucked it, turned & reached for the end zone. The ball broke the line before it moved slightly. The receiver was not touched during the entire process so even if the ball moved, it was a fumble recovery for a Touchdown. By rule. Corrente must not get a play off game this year for that alone. Absolutely disgraceful (I’m a Saints fan btw).

    However… having said all that – the Steelers screwed themselves with some horrendous play calling when they were 8 up. No excuse for not throwing the ball to try and win the game when you have a QB like big Ben.

  6. Are you going to ignore all these people too, Ben? You need to go back to the 1850’s, like I do, and understand what Player Possession actually is. The current interpretation of the rules puts the cart before the horse. You have possession before you can advance the ball. That is the founding premise of this game. Pick up that soccer ball during the game and they will explain it to you!

  7. What about the rules stating, that in order for a call on field, to be overturned, there has to be conclusive evidence? Touchdown called on field. Not conlclusive if he lost control. I say catch and fumble. I hope Brady gets A.I.D.S.

  8. Mr Lane seems to be channeling Robert Jackson, Justice of the Supreme Court: “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.”

  9. The bigger issue is: why does the NFL insist on preserving and over-officiously enforcing a rule that nearly all of its fans loathe (and find endlessly baffling)? A rule that seems to serve only to negate the common-sense definition of catching a football that all of its fans over the age of 25 have always understood.

    In other words, WTH was wrong with the old rules that everybody understood? 2 feet down + possession = catch; possession of ball + crossing the front of the goal line = touchdown.

  10. And the NFL wonders why its fans are deserting the sport in droves? No sports fan wants to see rigged professional sports with outcomes decided not by the players and coaches but by the officials. No other professional sport, not basketball, not hockey, not baseball, not even soccer, allows the game officials to make mistakes, weekly, that determine and impact the actual outcome of the game. The “catch” rule is confusing, arbitrarily complicated, and stupid, yet the NFL continues to go with it. The interpretation of the “catch” rule is capricious and random with no consistency between officials and crews. The NFL permits this also. The replay process of the “catch rule” determinations is slow, and also random with no real consistency between games, officials, and crews. The NFL permits this too. Why? Why does the NFL, year after year, permit this to continue? The most compelling answer to that question is – money and control. In a league where 8 out of 10 NFL games are one sided blow outs or crummy games between two lousy teams, they need something to get “office water cooler chatter” about the game. Some controversy to get some “buzz” about the sport. To feed the giant money making media machine and give all the well paid talking heads some controversy to talk about. So the NFL uses the officials to create it. Perhaps not intentionally, but the NFL makes the rules so complicated and so open to interpretation, and has such terrible officials, that the crews almost can’t help but screw up multiple games every week. By making bad calls that determine the outcome – who wins, who losses. The other answer to the “why does this continue to happen and the NFL does nothing to change or correct it’ question is – control. In key games, the NFL wants to determine who wins, and who loses, mostly to create the necessary narrative the NFL believes will generate the most fan interest and thus to most dollars. If team “X” needs to get screwed by the officials in order to ensure team “Y” wins, because the NFL has decided it wants team “Y” to advance, to win, and succeed, they ensure this, using the officials, to ensure the control of what otherwise is a random outcome (team “X” could beat team “Y” in a fair game). These control decisions, implemented by the officials and crews, play out on TV every week. Sometimes in important nationally televised games like the Steelers/Patriots game. Sometimes in other less notable games. Case in point for 2017, and there are so many other examples to chose from it’s hard to pick just one, but I give you the come from behind, no time on the clock, give the Chargers three chances to score and beat Kansas City in the first meeting this year between the Chiefs and Chargers. Why the NFL decided it wanted to hose KC in that game and give the Chargers three chances to score with no time left on the game clock, by calling multiple defensive penalties (the game can’t end on a defensive penalty) is beyond me. But watching that game, I simply could not believe my eyes. KC won that game three times, and lost on the fourth attempt by the Chargers, after three successive defensive penalties on the Chiefs. I’ve only ever seen that play out like it did once before – the officials giving the USSR mens basketball team four chances to win the game against the USA mens basketball team in the 1972 summer Olympics. That’s the level the NFL officiating has now devolved to – on par with 1970’s era soviet block “officiating” in the Olympics.

  11. “There is a seed of doubt on whether James controlled the ball, so it still comes down to a player element.”

    Ben, so you are telling us that a seed of doubt is equal to conclusive evidence? And what player element are you speaking of? It can’t be an element of possession, because that was clearly shown before the ball crosses the goal line. His loss of control happened AFTER he satisfied ALL element of the catch(possession). It is your element of TIME that destroyed this touchdown. TIME IS NOT A PLAYER ELEMENT. It is not a player element no matter who decides that it is. It’s lipstick on a pig! It doesn’t belong there. The only time related to possession is the time between control of the ball and the players legal position on the field. And that time is not always verifiable. If a player is standing still, he has possession when he has control of the ball. Anything he does and any time that elapses after that control(in my example) is post-possession. It is part of the RUNNING PLAY. The definition of PASS PLAY verifies this.

    If you do not agree with this, then you do not have a proper understanding of Player Possession. How can a Running Play begin after possession of a pass when you are placing the starting point of that Running Play BEYOND the end of legal possession(after the player has begun to advance the ball)? THIS is what is blurring the line between Receiver and Runner. CONTROL + INBOUNDS = POSSESSION. THAT is the Concept of Player Possession.

  12. The picture that you are showing here verifies possession. His knee on the ground is the “initial contact with the ground” that is required in all rules of possession. Surviving contact with the ground is NOT a phrase that can be found in the OFFICIAL RULES OF THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. When he reaches over the goal line, it IS a touchdown. The NFL screwed Pittsburgh on this play. I am a COWBOYS FAN. I couldn’t care less about either of the two teams in this game. But what I do care about is the destruction of this game, that I love and understand.

  13. “A fair catch is a feature of American football and several other codes of football, in which a player attempting to catch a ball kicked by the opposing team – either on a kickoff or punt – is entitled to catch the ball without interference from any member of the kicking team.[1] A ball caught in this manner becomes dead once caught, i.e., the player catching the ball is not entitled to run with the ball in an attempt to gain yardage, and the receiving team begins their drive at the spot where the ball was caught. A player wishing to make a fair catch signals his intent by extending one arm above his head and waving it while the kicked ball is in flight. The kicking team must allow the player an opportunity to make the catch without interference.”

    This is Wikipedia’s first paragraph in their explanation of the Fair Catch Rule. This rule could not be in existence if 8-1-3c was an element of possession. There may be exceptions to rules, but there is NO SUCH THING as an exception to an element of a rule. An element of a rule is fixed, permanent feature that must be performed in order for that rule to be satisfied. This is not the case with 8-1-3c. This element is not performed or satisfied in a large number of plays in every single NFL game. This is proof that it is not actually an element of the rule. It is simply a preference that is not always performed.

  14. The current rule is stupid. Everyone (but refs, I guess) hates it. So why not change it back? Every year since 2010 this comes up, and every time the fans, players, and commentators howl. Yet year after year the league does nothing or next to nothing to change it. Why is the NFL being so obstinate on this issue?

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