The Steelers and Patriots faced off Sunday evening at Heinz Field in a game with massive ramifications. Pittsburgh had a chance to lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, while New England was looking to match its opponent’s record and grab the inside track on home-field for itself.

The game lived up to its billing as a clash of conference titans. After Pittsburgh went ahead 24-16, New England scored 11 straight points in the fourth quarter to go up 27-24 with less than a minute to play. But thanks to a brilliant catch-and-run from Juju Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh surged to the Patriots’ 10-yard line, in position to reclaim the lead. Sure enough, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back and found tight end Jesse James for what seemed to be a go-ahead touchdown. Here’s the play:

Pretty straight-forward, right? James caught the pass and lunged forward, crossing the plane of the end zone with the ball as he fell to the ground.

But this is the NFL, where what seems like a catch is often not actually a catch. And so the referees reviewed the play and determined that despite what we all saw — that James plainly corralled the ball and reached forward, demonstrating that he had possession — the tight end “did not survive the ground,” meaning the pass was therefore incomplete.

Two plays later, Roethlisberger attempted a fake spike and wound up throwing the ball into Patriot arms, thereby handing New England a massive road victory.

Naturally, all the talk after the game centered on James’ touchdown that wasn’t. Quickly a consensus formed that, 1. Per NFL rules calling the pass incomplete was the right call — or at least a highly defensible one. 2. NFL rules are hopelessly silly.

You can’t blame the referees for implementing the catch rule as written in the rulebook. But you absolutely can blame the NFL for defining one of the sport’s most essential actions in a way that makes no sense to anyone. When your rules are this detached from reality, you need new rules.

Now the Patriots and Steelers both stand 11-3, and New England will likely secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, thanks in part to one of the NFL’s silliest, most brain-numbingly counterintuitive rules.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports,, and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

2 thoughts on “The Patriots beat the Steelers because the NFL still doesn’t know what a catch is

  1. What a crock. Apparently the NFL will do whatever it takes to ensure the cheatriots get home field advantage no matter what. Since when is the ball breaking the plane of the goal line not a touchdown? BULLSHIT! That was a catch and a touchdown. The Steelers got hosed by the cheatriot loving ref’s yet again.

Comments are closed.