The NFL was exciting and likable for about two minutes in Pittsburgh this evening, so naturally, someone had to ruin the fun. Getting the ball down five with just over two minutes to play, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski combined for a vintage comeback drive that gave the Pats a 27-24 lead. However, a ridiculous run after the catch from JuJu Smith-Schuster suddenly revived Steeler hopes.
On the ensuing play, a 10-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Jesse James was initially called a touchdown, which probably would have won the game for the Steelers. However, a lengthy review led officials to determine that James didn’t have control as he hit the ground at the goal line.
For the record, I am not a Pittsburgh fan. I really, truly don’t know who I even wanted to win this game. But that call is bullshit. I understand the idea of “completing the process of the catch,” but the lack of consistency the NFL shows when trying to arbitrate plays like these is maddening. “The ground cannot cause a fumble,” for one, is an NFL analyst mantra, while, on any run, simply crossing the plane with the ball is enough. Receivers, however, are expected to be flawless as they make their catches, especially on automatically reviewed scoring plays. (Here’s a very good explainer on the NFL’s absurdly complex catch rule.)
Slow-mo replaying touchdowns to look for any imperfection or movement of the ball as a receiver makes a great play is counterintuitive, boring, and unfair. And instead of enjoying an amazing back-and-forth climax to the biggest game of the week, we’re stuck trying to wrap our heads around an impenetrable rule.
Two plays later, Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception, and the Patriots clinched their win.