The Pittsburgh Steelers should be celebrating a big victory today, not trying to make sense of the senseless catch rule in the NFL.
By almost any reasonable view, Jesse James was robbed Sunday, no pun intended. The Pittsburgh tight end appeared to score the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the 27-24 loss to the New England Patriots.
James caught the pass from Ben Roethlisberger at the 2-yard-line, reaching out to grab the ball with both hands. James clearly made the catch with his back to the end zone, then turned and pulled the ball down before reaching it across the goal line.
TD, right? Well, not according to the replay officials.
Official Tony Corrente announced, “The receiver did not survive the ground.”
That sound ominous. James is fine, but this rule needs to flat line. It states the player must retain control to the ground, including in the end zone.
When James’ hands hit the ground, the ball moved slightly. So, by rule, he didn’t maintain possession through the end of the catch to the ground. No TD.
The TV announcers were shocked, the crowd was shocked, even the Patriots were shocked.
It’s the worst rule in the NFL and something virtually no one fully understands. It needs simplification in the offseason and changed to make a reception an easier act to accomplish.
As for the play Sunday night, if James had taken the ball on a reverse and done the exact same thing at the goal line, it would be a touchdown. As soon as the ball crosses the plane, the play is over.
There is zero doubt that James caught the ball. He wasn’t bobbling it in any way as he turned and reached forward. He still had both hands on the ball when his hands hit the ground and the ball jostles on the turf.
It shouldn’t matter. The play was over. James caught it, turned and reached the ball over the goal line.
Had James made the same play in the middle of the field, he wouldn’t have outstretched his arms as he turned around. He would have pulled the ball in as he went down. He only reached out to get the ball over the goal line.
How can you rule against the man for what would be a TD in any other situation?
This rule continues to cause problems on both sides of the interpretation. It clearly doesn’t work to anyone’s satisfaction. In this case, it probably kept the Steelers from having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Don’t punish players for making a great play. This rule has to change.