Sunday’s meeting between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots was spectacular, but for the wrong reasons. Both teams, eager to situate themselves among the top contenders in the AFC Playoff seeding, likely realized weeks in advance that the outcome of this Heinz Field encounter would have major implications in the hunt for the Super Bowl. Plus, the National Football League, suffering from a dwindling viewer base, has likely been clamoring to present a game with enough magnitude to re-capture disinterested fans. While the entire event was a brutal battle for AFC supremacy, the game’s fourth quarter is really what got fans fired up.
Though it was a powerful back-and-forth, the Patriots appeared to have things wrapped up late in the fourth quarter thanks to a Dion Lewis rushing touchdown. Then, with a mere 56 seconds to go, the Steelers were given one last opportunity to score — an opportunity of which they certainly took advantage. Seventy-nine yards away from the Patriot’s end zone, Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with Juju Smith-Schuster for an impressive 69 yard gain. Now, in the red zone with seconds left on the clock, it appeared that Pittsburgh’s rookie wide receiver had bailed the team out of a difficult loss. Those assumptions were all but confirmed when, on the next play, Roethlisberger found tight end Jesse James, who seemed to fall across the goal line for a game-winning touchdown. With hardly any time left, the Steel City rejoiced.
It was too good to be true, however. After conducting a mandatory review, referee Tony Corrente announced that the receiver didn’t maintain control of the ball after hitting the ground. The score was overturned, and Pittsburgh would have to duplicate the feat in order to best the Patriots. Two plays later, football fans across the country were shocked to see a pass directed into the hands of Patriot’s Duron Harmon, which brought the game to an end and allowed New England to edge past the yellow and black.
Moments later, fans took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with the officiating. Though many believed the overturned touchdown to be a blunder on the part of the referees, some have argued that, though the officials made the correct call, the rule is in dire need of clarification.
“That’s definitely a catch.”
“Wait, is that a catch?”
“Nah, definitely not a catch.”
— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) December 18, 2017
That's a catch. The NFL has lost its mind. And Dez caught the ball too, remember?
— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) December 18, 2017
Longtime sportswriter Dwain Price announced on Twitter that he believed NFL officials to be inaccurate and inconsistent in these situations. This definitely isn’t the first time the outcome of a major game was decided by a controversial call; as referenced by Price, Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was famously stripped of a touchdown in a 2014 playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. While it is far too late to change the results of either of these affairs, Jesse James’ would-be catch will likely be debated for years to come.