The kid in you thought Jesse James made the catch Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. The adult reminded you the rules have changed, but damned if you still aren’t unsure of what actually constitutes a catch these days. The coaches on opposite sides for that instant classic at Heinz Field seemed to disagree -- not surprisingly.
On his conference call Tuesday, I asked Bill Belichick if he liked the rule that turned James’ game-winner into nothing more on the stat sheet than an incomplete pass. After initially trending toward a non-opinion, the Pats coach/historian offered a little more insight into his thought process.
“Well, I think that’s really a conversation for people like Al [Riveron, Senior VP of Officiating] and the league and so forth,” he started. “But, there's always been a philosophy in the league and it’s gone back several decades of philosophically whether you want to have a catch and a fumble or an incomplete pass, and the philosophy has always been incomplete pass. Otherwise, you'd have a million catches and fumbles. I agree with that.”
“The catch in the end zone is very clearly stated, so you've got to complete a catch. It's pretty clear. Whether there’s a better way to do that, I don’t know. It’s a tough rule. It’s a bang-bang play. It could go either way, so I think you have to have a philosophy and whatever philosophy you have then there will be people on the other side with a different philosophy and then it really gets back into that whole discussion. I think if you've got a better way to do it, suggest it and let somebody take a look at it and we'll talk about it. I don’t know.”
Meanwhile, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin thinks change is necessary, although he -- like Belichick -- either doesn’t have an answer for how the rule should be rewritten and redefined, or isn’t ready to share.
“I think that we all can acknowledge that all of this needs to be revisited," Tomlin said. "It's not just that play. We're having similar discussions week in and week out. So as a member of the committee, I acknowledge that we've got our work cut out for us this offseason regarding a number of those things."
Maybe that lack of clarity -- as Tomlin seems to be indicating -- will always be there in the replay era where plays can be slowed down frame by frame. But what’s clear is that the Steelers either don’t know the rule as well as they should or are just plain careless. The Pats, on the other hand, have been schooled on that and much more.
“Yeah, we talk about it,” said Belichick. “We talk about everything that’s football-related, so situations, ball security, all of those things. We go over all of the situations. There are a lot of different ones. They're not quite all the same, but we cover them and make sure that they understand what we would want them to do in different situations. As I said, there are many different things that could happen on the types of plays that you're describing.”
Pats special teams guru and part-time wide receiver Matthew Slater told NBC Sports Boston’s “Monday Night Patriots” that it all depends on where you are on the field and what the situation is -- as Belichick indicated -- but that ball security is always the number one priority. Maybe the guys in Pittsburgh will finally get that memo.