5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 15

AP Photo

The questions are going to be even more smolder-y than usual, because Hombre de Acero has a crazy week and only sent me three questions, and I’m still mad. So here goes. How could anything else be the subject of this edition? Yes, I’m going there, and we will be examining various aspects of The Catch That Suddenly Wasn’t. Feel free to use this as a cathartic experience…

1. After reading a Post-Gazette article in which writer Ed Bouchette fanned the flames pretty thoroughly, I did some research on my own. More on that in a moment. In his article, Bouchette says he isn’t accusing NFL Senior VP for Officiating Alberto Riveron of bias toward the Patriots, exactly, but he does present some interesting facts. Here are the salient points:

In three games this season the Patriots benefitted by the review of a called touchdown on the field.

Two of these rulings overturned the touchdown called on the field. The one which was not overturned was a pass to Brandin Cooks:

New England’s Brandin Cooks caught a 25-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left to beat Houston 36-33 on Sept. 24. He caught the ball with both feet in the end zone but lost control as he hit the ground out of bounds. It was ruled a touchdown, and Riveron did not overturn it upon review.

The Jesse James touchdown reversal is probably pretty fresh in your mind. The third touchdown was also reversed. It was to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and here’s how nj.com describes it:

This was a huge moment in Sunday’s game. The Jets were down 24-14 with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter. So the touchdown would’ve cut New England’s lead to 24-21. Instead, the Patriots got the ball back, and the Jets couldn’t pull off the upset.

Though Riveron defended his call Monday, two former NFL head of officials — Fox Sports analysts Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino — disagreed with the overturn decision.

(Both felt it should have stood as called.) The final score was Patriots 24, Jets 17. (They did manage a field goal on their final series.)

It’s interesting to ponder that, had the two earlier calls been adjudicated differently, the Patriots might actually have been 8-5 when they travelled to Heinz Field. Or had Riveron been consistent, they might have been 9-4. In either case the outcome of last Sunday’s game would be much less momentous for the Steelers. How does this make you feel?

2. Back to that research I mentioned. There have been other touchdown catches reversed this season. Most of them have had what seems like a direct effect on who won the game. Here are all the reversed rulings I could find:

Austin Sefarian-Jenkens had another fourth-quarter touchdown catch reversed upon replay, in the November 26th game against the Panthers, and the Jets lost by a score of 35-27. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the Jets in the same division as the Patriots? Just checking.

In the waning seconds of their September 24th match versus the Falcons, the Lions thought they had won the game with a last-second touchdown pass to Golden Tate. But because Tate was ruled as having fumbled when the ball moved slightly as he went to the ground, and because there were only 8 seconds left on the clock, the mandatory 10-second runoff of the clock ended the game. The Lions lost, 30-26.

Also on September 24th, which was a busy day for Riveron, Sterling Shepard of the Giants had a touchdown pass reversed as the ball came slightly loose when he hit the ground. Earlier in the game, a catch by TE Zach Ertz of the Eagles was declared good despite him losing control of the ball when he hit the ground. The Giants lost, 27-24.

Zach Miller (Bears) dislocated his knee during what looked like an incredible touchdown catch that he somehow or other held onto as he collapsed onto the field. Riveron reversed it. Blandino disagreed. The Bears lost 20-12.

And finally, in a 31-24 loss to the Panthers, Vikings receiver Adam Thielen caught a touchdown. Quite conclusively, or so one would think. If one weren’t Senior VP of Officiating, at any rate.

Here’s how the Daily Norseman described the problem with the Thielen catch, which looked like a catch to pretty much everyone in the NFL-watching world:

This is the NFL. In order for it to be called a catch, you must catch it, get no fewer than four limbs and five internal organs in bounds, seal the ball in Lucite, get your cleats notarized, and recite the alphabet backwards.

So my question is, is the New York office unduly influencing the course of games, regardless of whether you believe there is a particular bias involved?

3. In looking at the above information, would you find it interesting to look very, very closely at Al Riveron’s financial picture?(Told you I was mad…)

Now to return to our regularly scheduled programming, and to Hombre de Acero:

4. The interesting thing about Jesse James’ non-touchdown is that there is no shortage of Steelers/Pittsburgh commentators who are saying, “Yeah it sucks but the ruling was correct” and no shortage of neutral observers saying, “This is INANE. THAT IS A TOUCHDOWN.” Based on your understanding of the rule, regardless of whether you agree with it or it, do you think it was correct?

5. Were the Steelers right to go for it at the end instead of kicking and playing in overtime?

And a bonus question for the holidays:

6. After the game, Jim Wexell’s instant reaction was, “I’m not sure the Steelers can overcome this.” However yesterday, he wrote a long column arguing that the game showed that the Patriots can be beaten. Which side do you come down on?


  • Oh man. Good Questions! Here goes nothin:

    1. It makes me slightly annoyed, but these plays have happened all over the place this season in the NFL. I am sure any team could come up with a couple that went their way vs not their way.

    2. The above being said, Yes. The New York office is absolutely influencing the course of games, and of seasons. I think another thing to look at is when these controversial overturned calls, or not overturned calls that should have been, occurred during the game. Most of what people remember happened at or near the end of the games. Either way, the New York office has Definitely influenced not only the course of games, but of the season as a whole. The biggest part of which is the #1 seed in the AFC, though some teams may not make the playoffs due to these interferences.

    3. I wouldn’t, but I would want emails and phone calls reviewed to see if goodell is influencing what the outcomes of the reviews are.

    4. First, I DO NOT in any way agree with the current rule. “Survive the ground” is well and good, but the method of getting to the ground has to be taken into consideration. I thought the catch rule was based also on making a football move. So, by the letter of the rule, I think it was still 50/50 on whether it was a catch or not. Part of that is, though his left hand came off the ball, his right hand was still touching, and a little under it. By rule, the ball is allowed to touch the ground during a catch, as long as it doesn’t assist the receiver in catching the ball. I don’t think it helped. Also, he was still in the field of play, not out of bounds. I think it came down to a judgement call in NY and when that is the case, it should, by rule i think, stay with the call on the field. But it didn’t.

    5. It was 3rd down, so yes, they should have gone for it. I was surprised that all of the receivers, save Rogers, froze. Also, they should have had a play lined up or ben should have called something quickly as the line. Lots of coulda shoulda woulda that never shoulda needed to happen.

    6. The patriots are beatable and we beat them. It took outside influence in order for them to win. Also, we now know to never single cover gronkowski, especially late in the game.

    Liked by 1 person

  • The comments by mtsnot are spot on, especially 4, 5 and 6. I’m far from despondent over this loss. We were 1 play away from a win and could have had a tie, if Ben throws the ball into the stands on third down (shame on the coaching staff for putting BB in that position, especially with your leader and clutch receiver, AB, out of the game). IF this is the team I think it is, they will win out, securing the 2nd seed.

    Assuming AB comes back and is at 90%, this is a formidable team and has the best shot at a Lombardi since at least 2010, maybe since the last SB win. They are the real deal. They did not win Sunday, but they outplayed NE. LETS GO STEELERS.


  • 4. Yes I believe it was a catch. He caught the ball, went down on his hip and thigh, pulled the ball to his body and then reached out to put the ball over the goal line. He was non the ground with the ball firmly established as a catch and when the ball broke the plane of the goal line it was correctly ruled a TD.

    5. Yes they were right to go for it but Ben should have thrown the ball away and then lined up for a FG

    6. I don’t agree with Wexel. After basically beating the Pats, even though they were robbed of the W, I think the team realizes they can beat Brady and the Patriots. I think they will be energized over then next two games and playoffs to meet the Pats again in the AFC championship.


    • One thing about this controversy that irks me is the silence coming from the Steelers Ownership. There is unprecedented outcry about the absurdness and inconsistency of the rulings coming out of league headquarters. Bouchette brought up the facts indicating the only consistency in Riveron’s calls is that they benefit the Patriots. This would be a good time for an owner to speak up as the league is reeling from controversy and low ratings, yet silence from the Rooneys. Who are they afraid of? The Steelers have been hammered by the league and officiating for at least the last decade yet the Rooneys refuse to voice any dissatisfaction.


  • 1. It would be one thing if I could reason that this was my sour grapes reaction to a tough Steelers loss, but I’m not Nostradamus. Yet you would think so based on what I wrote nearly a week in advance of the game. Viewed in this sense the ambiguity of the rule allows for the possibly of New York to influence the outcome of games. As Tunch Ilkin pointed out, the outcome of the play was totally uncontroversial to teams (no complaints from the Pats, just resignation) or game officials. It is one thing to have an unfortunate outcome of this nature, quite another when you can predict the occurrence IN ADVANCE!! Based upon past experience.

    2&3. Yes, and (predictably) questions are being raised about corruption. There are only two credible options here; incompetence or something far worse. Next prediction: The Cover Up. Nice job NFL.

    4. Even if you believe that the play was within the letter of the rule (which I don’t), the evidence didn’t rise to level to justify a reversal.

    5. The decision was consistent with Tomlin’s personality as a coach, and was no less controversial than the decision to run Bell in San Diego in 2015.

    6. I’m not scared of the Patriots. We can beat anywhere. Whether we can beat them and the league in tandem is another matter.


  • 4. ‘Twas a catch, because it wasn’t going to the ground which caused the ball to move, but Jesse’s hand hitting the ground again after extending the ball over the goal line.
    5. They were right to go for it. They showed a complete inability to stop the Patriots on their last drive.
    6. I think the loss gave the team confidence and motivation. This team is pissed off and can’t wait for a rematch.


  • 4. In this Brave New World we live in you can google the actual rules, which make no reference to “surviving the catch” or maintaining possession for “the entire process of going to the ground.” These are phrases the league officials have made up to justify an interpretation of the rule that it is contradictory to the wording actually in the rule book that the player must maintain possession until “after initial contact.” You can argue that they made the right call based on the “survive the catch” principle, which is fairly widely known to be the de facto standard, but it’s hard to argue how this interpretation is derived from the actual rule and if you can’t explain a call with the wording used in the rule book, it’s technically the wrong call even if it is precedented. Of course, there’s the whole matter of the inconsistency of applying their made up interpretation as well…

    5. The fake spike probably wasn’t the best idea. Really everything after the TD reversal was more chaotic and less planned than it should’ve been, but it happens. Otherwise it was a great game by the coaches and there’s no point in recriminations.

    6. People act like it’s the end of the world because we’ll probably end up with only the #2 seed. WE JUST HAVE TO BEAT TWO CRAPPY TEAMS TO CLINCH THE TWO SEED! Sure, it would’ve been nice to have home field advantage throughout, but it’s not like we haven’t had our share of luck this year with not having to play Aaron Rodgers or DeShaun Watson, good health for the most part, and how many close wins? After going toe to toe with New England without AB, I’m convinced that with AB the Steelers are the best team in the league. It might be interesting to see whether home field advantage or having AB makes more of a difference if we meet New England again in the playoffs, but that’s a long way off right now. As we’ve seen, anything can happen. Right now, the key is for players and coaches to take out their frustration on Houston instead of wallowing in it and coming out flat on the road against a Houston team that’s mad after getting humiliated by Jacksonville.


  • Hi, everyone. (First of all a would like to apologize for my “non academic or non polish” english)
    1- I think that the NFL has a huge problem with this rule. It is against the nature of the game. If you need miles in explanations and different opinions abiut only one issue, something goes wrong. It need to be changed.
    It’s the New England Patriots the best seller team in the entire NFL? It is like Real Madrid, or Barcelona in La Liga? I think it could be. So if you need a reasons for overturned rulings on the field in favor of the Pats, there you have one.
    4 – The rule says:
    “If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass [THIS IS THE CASE] (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground [HE CATCHES THE BALL FIRMLY UNTIL AFTER HIS INITIAL CONTACT WITH HIS KNEE IN THE FIELD, NOT THE ENDZONE], whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground [HE NEVER LOSES CONTROL OF THE BALL AND THE BALL NEVER TOUCHES THE GROUND BEFORE IT BRAKES THE GOAL LINE PLANE. TOUCHDOWN. END OF THE PLAY. WHY IS NOT THIS THE END OF THE PLAY?] before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete”

    5 – No, Ben should never throw an INT. Going for it is a valid decision. A dangerous one thoug. In the begining, I wanted to know who made that call ( I was really… let’s say frustrated because i am an educated man) I think Coach Tomlin asume the responsability of that call wheter it was or it wasn’t his decision.

    6 – Mr Raul Alegre (Kicker of the Baltimore Colts superbowl champion) from ESPN en español wrote a column in the same direction Wexell took first. I disagree. This team showed caracter and toughness of spirit in diferent moments of the season. It doen’t mean that they going to beat the Pats in postseason, but they could certainly do.


    • Gus! Sumaste a final. Ahora tenemos que convencer Carlos de Mexico de juntar!


    • Welcome Dr. de Acero. You bring up a good point.

      After the game, “Matt C. Steel” said on Jim Wexell’s website that the reversal fueled his suspicion that the league wanted the game to go into overtime for financial reasons.

      You don’t normally here people on professional sites talking that way.

      And it reminded me of something that a local (Argentine) sports journalist said to me before the last World Cup. (I won’t mention his name here, but I will say he works for FOX Sports Argentina). At the time, Argentina looked to be in danger of not making the World Cup. The journalist looked at me, tilted his head and said, “FIFA knows how popular Messi is. Do you think that FIFA is going to allow Argentina to not make the cup….?”

      The example of the Jesse James call, along with the others that Ed Bouchette highlights, shows how Roger Goodell is eroding the integrity of the game. This “What’s a catch and what’s not a catch” was a rule that the NFL developed to justify a bad call made against Calvin Johnson that cost him a touchdown a few years ago, similar to the “Tuck rule” that justified the fact that the refs overruled a Tom Brady fumble as an incomplete pass that was, as everyone knows, a fumble (he touched the ball with his other hand, for Christssakes.)


    • I meant “non polished English” (although, is true, my English is not from Poland)

      And thank you, Hombre de Acero, for your welcome.


  • 2. While it would make me feel good to accuse the NFL of being up to no good. I don’t think that’s the case. Instead, I believe the (shocking) inconsistency of Riveron actually shows he’s being influenced by simple psychology. Whenever we’re faced with making a choice, our brains have to sift through vast amounts of information. In an ideal situation we’d have enough time to weigh all our options, discard bad information, and come up with the “right” answer. But this is live TV, and “time is money.” So Riveron only has a few minutes to make a decision. This leads him to take mental shortcuts (see: primacy & recency effects as illustrations)

    He doesn’t have the rules directly in front of him (or so I believe). Therefore he has to “remember” them. And because we remember poorly under pressure (if you’ve ever choked on a test, and then later remembered the answer, you know exactly what I’m talking about), he is inconsistent in what he remembers. And because “consistency” is not important to Roger Goodell (good TV, revenue, and “the Shield” matter to him), we get messes like this.

    6. We aren’t the Bengals. Tomlin is a resilient coach. The Steelers are a resilient team. I think they’ll be ready to make a deep playoff push. Now will they be able to overcome their shortcomings as a team AND the NFL? That remains to be seen.


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