Make the right argument

Just so we’re clear, I have no dog in this fight. Any realistic expectations I had for my team winning a championship went down the tubes the second Carson Wentz’s left ACL was torn apart.

I don’t typically root for or against either the Patriots or the Steelers unless they’re playing the Eagles, or the outcome in some way will impact the Eagles. I wanted Le’Veon Bell to accumulate as many yards and touchdowns as possible while Tom Brady fumbled six or seven times for fantasy purposes. Other than that, my only rooting interest was for a great game between two very good, and evenly matched, teams.

They delivered. The final two minutes alone were worth the price of admission. New England drives for a go ahead touchdown with one minute to go. Pittsburgh appeared to answer, but then what looked to be a touchdown catch by Jesse James was overturned and controversy ensued.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with Steelers fans lamenting the “catch rule,” how it wasn’t applicable in this case because the ball crossed the plane, how it’s somehow further proof that the NFL wants the Patriots to win or that “common sense” should have told the officials it was a catch.

Here’s the thing. The officials got the call right . . . probably.

Mike Pereria and Dean Blandino, both former head NFL officials, tweeted why the play was ruled incomplete.

“People are saying a runner breaking the plane causes the ball to become dead … which is true,” tweeted Pereria. “BUT the receiver does not become a runner until he completes the process of the catch. TOTALLY DIFFERENT.”

“If you are going to the ground to make the catch, you have to hold onto the ball when you land,” Blandino tweeted. “He isn’t a runner until he completes the catch, so goal line is not a factor. It’s an incomplete pass.”

Both those statements essentially sum up NFL Rule 8, Section 1 Article 3 Item 1: Player Going to the Ground, “A player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.”

James was clearly “going to the ground,” so the rule is definitely applicable. There’s no arguing that. His knee touching is irrelevant, the ball crossing the plane is irrelevant, him twisting his body is irrelevant. He’s going to the ground, he must maintain possession, or regain possession, without the ball hitting the ground. Period.

Steelers fans trying to argue any of those things will find themselves in the same boat as Cowboys fans trying to argue the no catch call against Dez Bryant in the playoffs a few years ago. Back then, all I heard was, “he took two steps, that’s a catch.” Well no, it’s not. There’s actually nothing in the rule regarding number of steps. But I digress.

Both the Cowboys and Steelers fans have been arguing about the wrong aspect of the call.

If you concede the fact the ball hit the ground, game over. There’s nothing to debate. If the ball hit the ground, it’s incomplete, no matter how many “football moves” you think the player made.

The real controversy in both the Bryant and James calls lies in whether there was clear and irrefutable evidence the ball hit the ground. In James’ case in particular, it’s fuzzy at best. The ball clearly moves and the tip touches the ground, but there’s no clear view that shows whether his arm kept the rest of the ball off the ground. If not, the call was absolutely correct. There’s no two ways about it. They got it right.

But here’s the thing Steelers fans, there’s no clear view (at least not one I’ve seen) that shows the ball clearly on the ground. The tip can touch so long as the ground isn’t aiding the catch.

So debate away Steeler Nation, but please, make sure to argue for the right call.