Ready to get outraged? Because I’m about to give you a reason.
According to Sal Paolantonio and Chris Mortensen, the NFL essentially changed the catch rule mid-season, presumably following the decision by Al Riveron to overturn the Jesse James catch at the end of the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots late in the season.
“I think we saw this rule in action during the Super Bowl when the Eagles played the Patriots”, Mortensen said on the Coaches Breakfast podcast on ESPN, referring to the new changes to the catch rule that was approved by the league’s owners, unanimously, yesterday.
Paolantonio was far more explicit, saying that he spoke to Riveron. “There’s no question about that”, he said. “It was pretty clear to me [from speaking with Riveron] that it was already in place when they ruled on the Zach Ertz catch for the touchdown and the Corey Clement catch for a touchdown”, referring to two Eagles touchdowns during the Super Bowl that went to extended review before being upheld.
“He had those conversations”, Paolantonio said of Riveron. “He was in New York, Troy Vincent sitting next to him, with Gene Steratore, the referee on the field, they were having that conversation, and they were basically legislating on the fly during the Super Bowl. And now, we’ve seen it enacted unanimously by the owners”.
Now, it was readily apparent to the league that they had a problem. But to change the rules midseason is unfair to those who were negatively affected by the changes earlier in the season, and it goes without saying that the Steelers are among those teams.
The league, including Riveron himself, went out of its way to point out that the new catch rule would make James’ play from last season a touchdown. But apparently, if he would have done the same thing in the Super Bowl, it still would have been a touchdown. So he just did it too early on in the season.
This is not the first time that the league has been criticized for changing the way that they officiate mid-stride. Nor is it the first time that it involved the Steelers. They changed the nature of their enforcement of hits on defenseless receivers during the 2010 season following a rash of violent hits, including two high-profile ones involving James Harrison.
Later on in the same audio clip, Tim Hasselbeck continued the conversation. “The Zach Ertz play, the Corey Clement play, in the Super Bowl, were ruled differently. This was an action before a vote, that were ruled differently. That changes the biggest and most important game of the season. That’s a massive thing”.
Of course, if you think about it, perhaps the Patriots should have the biggest grievance of all. They were the team that suffered the most from the rule being officiated differently before it was officially changed.
But I don’t think there will be many tears shed for New England here. The bottom line is that if the rule were officiated differently earlier in the season, the Steelers likely would have had the number one seed. And perhaps things would have happened differently. Maybe not, but I would have liked to have seen them get a shot at it.