The catch rule rears its ugly head to deny Steelers a late TD in bid to beat Patriots

Patriots-Steelers was the best game of the year in the 2017 NFL season, and no great game comes and goes without a little bit of controversy. This time around, it was a catch from Steelers tight end Jesse James that would have given the Steelers the lead in the game with less than 30 seconds left but somehow ended up being incomplete even though James crossed the plane of the goal line with the ball in hand.

After Tom Brady fed Rob Gronkowski over and over to lead the Patriots down the field, New England took a one-point lead and nailed a two-point conversion to go up three. Ben Roethlisberger immediately answered by hitting JuJu Smith-Schuster for 69 yards, setting up Roethlisberger in the red zone with 32 seconds left on the clock. 

Roethlisberger hit James, who crossed the line but didn't control the ball all the way to the ground. 

It certainly wasn't obvious off the bat: everyone was wondering why the review was taking so long, and suddenly it hit like a ton of bricks. The refs were deciding if it was actually a catch. And they ruled it wasn't, because James was bobbling the ball as he went to the ground.

There is a pretty good argument that James diving into the end zone and losing control of the ball was worth reviewing and that it was not actually a catch.

And here's the thing: Pereira isn't wrong. According to the rule, which may very well be a dumb rule, a player has to be "upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner." James did not do that. So he has to hold onto the ball all the way through the catch. He did not do that. 

If you read the NFL rulebook, it was not a catch (again, even if the rule is stupid). From Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 in the NFL rulebook, which explicitly lays out the situation at hand:

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.

On the next play, the Steelers threw a pass that stayed in bounds, so they were forced to sprint up to the line and try and get a play off. Roethlisberger was planning to spike it, but said he was told by the sideline to run a play. He did, and ran a fake spike, which he then decided not to throw away and it turned into an interception that ended the game in cruel fashion.

The whole thing left the Steelers completely stunned, literally speechless.

The Steelers are now out of the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, with the Patriots more likely to capture homefield advantage throughout. And they will be able to point to one single play that cost them a shot to get a rematch with New England at home instead of on the road. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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