It's right there in Section 2, Article 7.
"A player who goes to the ground," the NFL rulebook states, "in the process of attempting to secure possession . . . must maintain control of the ball until after his contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone."
And so when the replays showed that Steelers tight end Jesse James lost possession of the football as he hit the ground reaching for the goal line in the final seconds of Sunday's loss to the Patriots, what the officials would conclude was relatively apparent: It was an incompletion, not a go-ahead score.
The reaction from the Steelers in the aftermath of the game was, um, mixed.
"I don't have HD and all of that stuff," said coach Mike Tomlin. "It's really irrelevant how I feel about it to be honest with you . . . I'm not gonna cry over spilled milk and all that crap about replay. I'm not doing it."
Tomlin's players took a different approach.
"It sucks, honestly," said Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, per to ESPN. "That was a b------- a-- call by the refs. I feel like he had ball control, he was in. In a game like that, when you go down, and you finish the game like that, and then boom, momentum, and the next thing you know (the referee) said he didn't have control of the ball. Nobody touched him."
Smith-Schuster wasn't alone. Outside the Steelers locker room, per Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran, players wondered how the James catch was overturned.
Referee Tony Corrente was definitive after the game. He told a pool reporter that the terminology in Section 2, Article 7 applied in this instance.
"In order to have a completed pass, a receiver must survive going to the ground," game official Tony Corrente said afterward. "In this case, he had control of the football, but he was going to the ground. As he hit the ground, the ball began to roll and rotate and the ball hit the ground and that's the end of it at that point."