A glib way of explaining the Steelers' loss to the Patriots is that they got the brain lock that so many teams get against New England. To be sure, Ben Roethlisberger's decision to force the ball into triple coverage to Eli Rogers when the Steelers trailed by only a field goal was a foolish one.
And yet it's understandable that Pittsburgh would be shell-shocked given what transpired two plays earlier. Tight end Jesse James had scored a go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds remaining. It seemed like the Steelers' frustrations against the Patriots would finally be lifted, at least for the several weeks until the teams likely meet again in the playoffs.
Then a funny thing happened: The NFL's labyrinthine rulebook intervened. It's no secret that football is bogged down with endless rules. Some of them don't make sense, and those are the ones that always seem to crop up at the worst times. And the issue of what constitutes a catch remains a mystery going on four or five years in the league. Even when the NFL released a explanatory video after the fact, they referred to James' play as a catch.
After review on the field, however, nope. No catch, no touchdown. All because the latest unworkable standard for making a catch in the NFL is controlling the ball to the ground. There's no distinction between whether a player falls immediately to the ground, or, as in the case of James, makes a controlled movement between securing the ball and hitting the ground. There's also no distinction made for a player with their knee down and controlling the ball across the goal line. It's a maddening standard that costs the sport a host of exciting scoring plays each season.
If there's any silver lining for the Steelers after the 27-24 loss, it's that they should have won a game against the team that has always been their undoing. They did so without the services of star receiver Antonio Brown for most of the game. They intercepted Tom Brady for the first time in 12 years. These are all encouraging signs.
The early prognosis of the partially torn calf muscle in Brown's left leg is that it should be ready to go for the playoffs in a few weeks. Should the Steelers make it back to the AFC championship game, they will likely have Brown, along with cornerback Joe Haden, who has missed the past several games.
Pittsburgh is taking the right approach for a regular-season setback of this magnitude: It's quickly moving on. Head coach Mike Tomlin declined an opportunity to grouse about the call in immediate postgame comments. If the Steelers get another crack at the Patriots, it will almost certainly be in Gillette Stadium. That makes things more difficult, though getting Brown and Haden back will be a big help. As will the knowledge that they already hung with this Patriots team once before.
Index cards can swing a game now
pic.twitter.com/HLDQMUHUp9- Mike Tunison (@xmasape) December 18, 2017
The outrage and arguing over the late afternoon games had barely subsided when some more interesting officiating moments took place in the night game between the Raiders and the Cowboys. On a critical fourth down late in the game, Dallas advanced the ball right to the first-down marker. It was close enough that Gene Steratore needed to employ a folded piece of paper to "reaffirm" the first-down call. Had it been a thinner fold, would it have been a first down? Perhaps that will be a tendency pundits will study in the future: How thick is the measuring sheet each referee uses? It's a decidedly lower-tech issue than high-definition replay, though no less baffling.
All in all, it was day when officials found themselves in the most bizarre of circumstances. In Carolina, Damiere Byrd was ruled inbounds in the back of the end zone by his butt. This was given the memorable name "butt drag swag" after the game.
Damiere Byrd has a name for his catch: Butt drag swag.- Joe Person (@josephperson) December 17, 2017
Please welcome new NFL owners, Diddy and Steph Curry
Following a Sports Illustrated report that said that Panthers owner Jerry Richardson settled multiple workplace misconduct incidents and used a racial slur against a scout, it was revealed Sunday evening that Richardson would be selling the team after this season. Because rapper/producer/mogul Sean "Puffy" "Puff Daddy" "Diddy" Combs made a comment a few months ago during the NFL's showdown with President Trump that someone should sell the league to him, his name kept coming up as a replacement for Richardson. This led to Steph Curry piggybacking on the idea. The NFL already has a Dolphins ownership group overrun with celebrities. What's one more?
I️ want in! https://t.co/XvvC1vo7xI - Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) December 18, 2017
Fan of the Week
pic.twitter.com/R3d0XnLMx6- Mike Tunison (@xmasape) December 17, 2017
The Bills' faint playoff hopes remain alive following a win at home over the Dolphins. This is Buffalo we're talking about, so while the Bills are technically still alive for the playoffs, we'll believe it when we see it. In the meantime, Sunday was the last home game of 2017 for Buffalo. No doubt Bills Mafia would be out in force, powerbombing themselves through tables and hopefully not into the emergency room. It takes a lot of carnage to stand out at a Bills tailgate, and yet setting yourself on fire and ignoring fire safety protocol just may be the definitive way to do it.
Posting a 143.8 rating in a win over a division rival evidently didn't earn Bortles the respect of his peers. When asked whether he noticed improvement in Bortles' game, Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney replied that "he's trash." He made not have made a believer of Clowney, but Bortles is at least the first quarterback in Jaguars history to have three straight games with a 100-plus rating, multiple touchdowns and no interceptions. Sure, you might scoff, that's Jaguars history. But hey, they had Mark Brunell. He was all right!
Now that the Rams are a contender, Donald may no longer be dominating in obscurity. He's been one of the NFL's best defensive linemen for several years now, and now that the Rams are playing meaningful games in December and January, he may actually be recognized for it by casual fans. In the beatdown of the Seahawks, he was a force, registering three sacks and causing 10 pressures.
The Steelers had success playing more aggressive coverage against the Pats than they have in the past, mixing zone with more man coverage. Of course, that got them into the matchup nightmare of covering Gronk, who went off for 168 yards on nine catches. Sixty-nine of those yards came on the go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth.
The Vikings had little trouble dispatching the Bengals, who will reportedly soon be done with Marvin Lewis, though he denies this. Kendricks played a big role in putting Cincy away early with a pick-six in the first quarter. Of the five targets he covered on the day, the receivers gained all of nine yards.
Jimmy Garoppolo might still be undefeated as a starting quarterback, yet he's thrown only two touchdowns in his three starts as a 49er. That isn't to say he hasn't been impressive. He is, however, getting some help from the kicking game. Gould was 6-for-6 in the win over the Titans, and four of them were 45 yards of longer. In fact, all three of the field goals he made in the fourth quarter were from at least 45.
All the focus coming into Sunday was on how Nick Foles would do in relief of the injured Carson Wentz. And it turns out he was perfectly fine, even pretty good. Foles ended up throwing four touchdowns in a 34-29 win over the Giants. Yet he needed every one of them, as Jim Schwartz's defense got lit up early in the game. At one point, the Giants led 20-7 in the second quarter before the Eagles clamped down somewhat. Still, this has been a team that has struggled early in games recently. Without Wentz, that isn't likely to be a winning formula against teams that haven't lost 10-plus games.
It seems all of Good Cutty was used up in the improbable win over the Patriots last week. No shame in that. It will clearly be the highlight of Miami's season. Bad Cutty was back in the loss in Buffalo. He was woefully inaccurate on deep passes and threw three interceptions. The last came right after the Dolphins were fortunate enough to recover an onside kick, giving them a chance to tie trailing by a touchdown. It might have been a miscommunication. That's the only possible explanation for a pass that comically off target.
At one point in the second quarter, the Browns quarterback had the magical stat line of 3 of 7 passing for negative-12 yards and an interception. He added another pick in the red zone in the second half when Cleveland had a chance to cut into Baltimore's 27-10 lead. It probably wouldn't have mattered a great deal to the outcome, but it doesn't do wonders for the hope that Browns could somehow pull out of their final two games and avoid 0-16.
The past few weeks for the Steelers rookie safety have been something of a nightmare. Pittsburgh had plenty of chances to win against New England, and one of the earliest was a possible interception of Tom Brady that he dropped with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. From there, Davis was victimized repeatedly by Gronk in coverage. Not an enviable assignment for any defender, though he couldn't make it work in his favor at any point on Sunday.
Seattle just looks like a team that has given up after a 42-7 loss to the Rams. Michael Bennett was lucky to avoid suspension for cheap shots late in the game against Jacksonville in Week 14. He might as well have been out of the lineup for what little he contributed. What's left of the Seahawks' once-formidable defense is engaging in public squabbling, as Earl Thomas and Bobby Wagner gave the media some pointed quotes in the locker room.
The week in celebrations
Lost in the outrage over byzantine rules and the Jerry Richardson news, there were quite a few notable celebrations in Week 15. The Lions had a seasonal entry during Saturday action, breaking out some Rockettes-style kicks following a touchdown. They'll have to work on getting more height on those kicks.
pic.twitter.com/BWCUvFVvsS- Brad Galli (@BradGalli) December 16, 2017
Ever the celebration innovators, the Eagles likely had the most creative celebration on Sunday, with a spinning ball being used as a campfire. Impressive that the ball kept going long enough for everyone to gather 'round.
pic.twitter.com/wcShF54tBQ- Mike Tunison (@xmasape) December 17, 2017
The Vikings kept it sports related with this simulation of a fade-away jumper. There have been other basketball related celebrations. The others dealt with free-throw shooting, and this one showed off skills from the field.
pic.twitter.com/L2PYQ3mSUc- Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 17, 2017
A questionable but still kind of fun entry: the Titans doing an end zone train ride. Except Eric Decker gave the train wings for some reason. It's possible he still thinks he plays for the Jets.
pic.twitter.com/Kp8ZChgN6D - Mike Tunison (@xmasape) December 17, 2017
The most disrespectful celebration of the weekend, by far, was Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster recreating the pose he had over Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict following the block that got him suspended for a game. This wasn't even for a touchdown that Smith-Schuster scored on Sunday, so you know the Steelers really wanted to do it.
pic.twitter.com/raFGxLoAOg - Mike Tunison (@xmasape) December 17, 2017