By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For a moment, the Pittsburgh Steelers had taken a lead over the Patriots in the final minute of Sunday afternoon’s game. But then, it was taken away.
After reviewing Jesse James’ apparent touchdown with 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter, replay officials ruled to overturn the call. Referee Tony Corrente explained in his announcement that “the receiver in the end zone did not survive the ground,” and therefore did not catch the ball.
The Steelers still had plenty of time to either score the winning touchdown or kick an easy tying field goal to force overtime, but Ben Roethlisberger ended up throwing an interception in the end zone to lose the game.
Because of the outcome, and because of the perpetually ambiguous nature of what constitutes a catch in the NFL, the overturned play became a point of some debate after the Patriots’ 27-24 victory.
Corrente explained the call and the decision after the game to a pool reporter. (Transcript provided by the NFL, and shortened for brevity and clarity.)
On the touchdown that was called back, what was the review?
“We were inside of two minutes and in order to have a completed psas, a receiver must survive 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 began to roll and rotate and the ball hit the ground and that’s the end of it at that point.
On whether it matters that he was untouched or that his knee was down:
“He lost complete control of the football. That was the ruling out of the replay.”
On the terminology that he used:
“I said that he just didn’t survive the ground. That’s the terminology that we use in officiating. You have to survive the ground, which means that you have to maintain control of the football.”
On whether this is similar to the Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant play of several years ago in the playoffs:
“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 incomplete pass whether he was touched or not.”
The explanation won’t help soothe any feelings in Pittsburgh.
“I’m sick about it. I’ll be thinking about this the rest of the night,” James said, according to ESPN. “I had my knee down, turned up the field. Whether they consider that a football move or not is up to them to decide. I guess I don’t know a lot of things about football. I thought it was a touchdown for sure.”
Receiver JuJu Smitch-Schuster had a more succinct summation of events.
“It sucks, honestly. That was a [B.S.] call by the refs,” Smith-Schuster said.
Former NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino, however, said the rule was correctly applied.
“That’s the rule and it’s a bright line,” Blandino tweeted. “If you are going to the ground to make the catch you have to hold onto the ball when you land. He isn’t a runner until he completes the catch so goal line is not a factor. It’s an incomplete pass.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who’s seen it all in his decades on the sideline, was asked if he was surprised by the overturned call.
“It looked like the ball moved,” Belichick answered, before quickly correcting course. “You’ll have to talk to the [officiating] crew about that.”