Here’s why refs overturned the Steelers’ potential game-winning touchdown vs. the Patriots

NFL rules experts explained why the initial catch was eventually ruled incomplete.

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James (81) has a knee down before crossing the goal line with a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James reaches for the end zone during what was ultimately an overturned touchdown in the final minute of Sunday's game. –Don Wright / AP

With 28 seconds remaining and the Steelers trailing the Patriots, 27-24, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appeared to find tight end Jesse James for the go-ahead touchdown. Upon review, however, NFL officials ruled that James had not completed the catch, deeming it incomplete.

Given that Roethlisberger threw a game-ending interception two plays later, James’ non-touchdown inevitably took on a greater significance. First, here’s the play as it was initially shown on television:

And here’s the replay, where CBS announcers Jim Nantz and Tony Romo begin to realize the possible issue with James’ play:

After the game, here’s what referee Tony Corrente had to say about the call:


Former NFL officials Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino both weighed in afterward to explain the exact reason why the initial catch was ruled incomplete:

Additionally, here’s an official explanation from the NFL about the call:

The Patriots won the wild showdown with their AFC rival, gaining a leg up in the chase for the top conference playoff seed. New England also moves a step closer to home field advantage in the playoffs, where they could potentially meet Pittsburgh in a rematch.