ICYMI in NFL Week 15: 2 rules league could stand to change

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)

By HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Pro Football Writer
Well, no one STILL seems to agree on what, exactly, should constitute a catch in the NFL — and that contributed to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss to the New England Patriots in a key game for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
It’s also hard to find folks who like the provision that awards possession of the football to the team on defense after an offensive player fumbles it out of the end zone — and that (along with, yes, what appeared to be a folded index card used to determine whether there was a first down) helped the Dallas Cowboys beat the Oakland Raiders to keep their postseason hopes intact as Ezekiel Elliott prepares to return from a suspension.
Two of the most confounding pieces of the NFL rulebook took center stage at the end of key games Sunday, and the results could have a real impact on who ends up reaching the Super Bowl.
Maybe this offseason, the competition committee will, once and for all, alter the ways one — or even both — of these situations are handled. Until that happens, there will be questions and complaints.
Which, when you think about it, might be what the league wants: Such conversations mean attention.
New England clinched a record ninth consecutive division title with a 27-24 victory at Pittsburgh that came after Ben Roethlisberger’s apparent 10-yard TD pass to Jesse James with 28 seconds left was erased because, as referee Tony Corrente, explained: “The receiver did not survive the ground.”
As James twisted and lunged into the end zone at the play’s finish, he extended the ball, which shifted in his hands. The call was called the way the NFL says it should be .
But CBS announcers Tony Romo and Jim Nantz were so unaware that was even an issue that they only were trying to figure out whether James might have been touched by a defender before the football crossed the goal line.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to hold up,” Nantz declared.
Asked later how he felt about the eventual replay ruling, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin replied: “It’s really irrelevant how I feel about it, to be honest with you. It’s not going to change the outcome of the game. I’m not going to cry over spilled milk.”
Both teams are 11-3; the Patriots’ win puts them on a path to host a possible rematch in the conference championship game.
And there were so many other talking points afterward, including just how serious Steelers receiver Antonio Brown’s left calf injury is; what went on with the last-minute decision-making by Roethlisberger, who compounded the damage done by the James call by faking a spike and then forcing a throw on a slant into the end zone that got intercepted with 5 seconds to go; and why Pittsburgh allowed New England tight end Rob Gronkowski to roam free with single-man coverage.
At night, Dallas’ 20-17 victory at Oakland was sealed when Raiders QB David Carr lost his grip on the football while reaching for the end zone on a scramble from the 8. The ball crossed the goal line, then went out the side of the end zone — a turnover and a touchback.
Why not give the offense the ball where the player lost possession? Or back the offense up to the 25? Or come up with some other solution that doesn’t reward the defense for having done absolutely nothing to prevent a score?
That wasn’t the most bizarre moment of the game. Or even the entire NFL day. No, that was reserved for referee Gene Steratore’s decision to try sliding what appeared to be an index card between the tip of the ball and the end of the chain when measuring for a first down. When he determined the card didn’t fit, Steratore awarded a first down to Dallas (8-6), which wound up kicking the go-ahead field goal on that drive.
“That was interesting,” Cowboys QB Dak Prescott said. “Him measuring with the paper.”
In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL season’s 15th Sunday:
Hours after the NFL said it would take over the investigation into workplace misconduct by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson — and after Sports Illustrated reported, citing unnamed sources, that confidential payouts had been made for sexual harassment and using a racial slur — he announced he will sell the team after the season. Among those immediately throwing their hats in the ring as possible buyers were musician/actor Diddy and two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry.
Aaron Rodgers returned after missing two months with a broken collarbone and threw a career-high-tying three interceptions in the Green Bay Packers’ 31-24 loss at Carolina. The Packers were all but eliminated from the playoffs; they haven’t missed out since 2008.
So bad for so, so long, the Jacksonville Jaguars earned their first postseason berth in a decade by easily beating the Houston Texans 45-7. QB Blake Bortles threw three TDs in the first half for the first time in his career.
With an NFC North-clinching 34-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals a foregone conclusion, the Minnesota Vikings gave Teddy Bridgewater his first regular-season game action since January 2016. And his first pass since tearing up his knee? Intercepted.
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