The NFL's controversial catch rule once again played a part in another huge game

  • The New England Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-24, on Sunday in a wild finish.
  • One of the deciding factors of the game was when officials over-turned a late Steelers touchdown, ruling tight end Jesse James bobbled the ball as he hit the ground.
  • While the call seemed correct, the frequently controversial catch rules may play a big part in home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the New England Patriots, 27-24, on Sunday in one of the wildest endings of the NFL season.

While Ben Roethlisberger threw a game-sealing interception with five seconds to play on a fake spike, perhaps the most costly play of the game was an overturned Steelers touchdown with 28 seconds to play.

Roethlisberger found tight end Jesse James up the middle for what looked like a touchdown. As referees reviewed it, however, it became clear he bobbled the ball as he went to the ground.

Under the NFL’s controversial and frequently criticised catch rules, players must maintain control of the ball all the way to the ground. While it’s clear that James did indeed bobble the ball, the recent enforcement of this specific rule played a larger part in James’ touchdown being over-turned than it may have in years past.

Here’s the live play:

And the replay:

After the game, Al Riveron, the senior vice president of officiating, said of the call in a video released on Twitter:

“[James] loses control of the football, and the ball touches the ground prior to him regaining control. Therefore, the ruling on the field of a touchdown was changed to an incomplete pass.”

As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert noted, the league’s rules, though frustrating to some, provide a specific standard for what constitutes a catch. If they loosened the rules, there would be a greater degree of subjectivity to each borderline catch.

Still, as Seifert also noted, the NFL’s catch rules may play a big part in home-field advantage in the AFC.

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