The Pittsburgh Steelers were not robbed of a touchdown last night at the end of the game by the officials—or more accurately, the league office—who overturned what was ruled on the field as a 10-yard touchdown reception by tight end Jesse James.
By the letter of the law, the officials appropriately applied the catch rule as it was written to the James play. I have seen some people dispute whether or not there was indisputable evidence that the football ever actually touched the ground, but this strikes me as a desperation, Hail Mary critique, as I find it hard to believe anybody actually believes the ball did not touch the ground.
Now, with that out of the way, that doesn’t mean that we cannot talk about the rule itself, and the fact that it is flawed. This will come as sour grapes to anybody who isn’t a Steelers fan who might read this, no doubt, and I’m sure there are articles that pop up like these for every team after they are on the butt end of the rule, but here it is anyway.
The problem with the rule as it is written is that it penalizes a player for attempting to make an effort to advance the football. Had James not attempted to turn his body upfield and advance the ball over the goal line, he could have quite easily secured the football without it touching the ground.
In an effort to ensure that the football would cross the plane, however, the tight end extended a full-out effort that made retaining possession through contact with the ground a dicey proposition. Even though the rule is in place and should be known by all, most seem to work under the understanding that a lunge is enough to qualify as a catch.
It is unfortunate that the Steelers were harmed by the catch rule, but the reality is that every team plays under the same rule and would suffer the same consequences. The only thing that can be done from this point forward is to seek a further change to the rule that would be less punitive toward an attempt to make a play.
We have seen this rule blow up in the league’s faces with some high-profile incidents in the past, such as non-catches from Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson. I’m sure that the league doesn’t actively want to look the fool when these to-the-eye catches are fine-printed out of existence.
It would be advantageous for the league to revisit the catch rule in a very earnest matter this offseason, perhaps even looking at it from scratch, at the very least with an angle toward reducing the number of plays in which a player is penalized for trying to make a play. it’s just not good for football.