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Mitch's Sports Report: Patriots Catch A Break Thanks To Current NFL Definition Of A Catch

Yesterday's showdown between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers brought back memories of the crazy, down to the wire, reversal of fortune game that marked the 2014 Patriots Superbowl win over Seattle that ended on a most improbable interception by Malcolm Butler, stealing a win from the jaws of defeat.

The Patriots also won on an interception yesterday, but instead of that pick coming off a poor coaching decision to throw the ball at the goal line rather than handing it off to the league's best running back, the Pats overcame poor defense of their own in the final minute and were aided by the letter of the law according to the NFL rule book regarding what does and does not constitute a catch.

But before we get to that definition, it's worth recounting the last two minutes of this game, which saw a see saw of emotional highs and lows for both teams and their fans. The Pats trailed by five points, needing a touchdown in the final 120 seconds to get a win and pull even with Pittsburgh for best record in the AFC and potential home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That's pretty much ho-hum, put ion your hard hat and get to work territory for Tom Brady at this point in his carer and sure enough Brady drove the Patriots downfield by repeatedly throwing the ball to the tight end he didn't have at his disposal last week due to a one-game suspension, that being the sublimely talented Rob Gronkowski, who caught three pinpoint Brady passes in a row on that drive, allowing Dion Lewis to run the ball in from five yards out to give the Pats a one point lead. That lead grew to three points when Brady made the two point conversion hitting, who else? Gronk again in the end zone. Gronkowski finished the day with nine catches good for 168 yards, reminding everyone why he's simply the best tight end in the game.

So the Steelers now trailed by a field goal with just 58 seconds left on the clock and all the Pats defense had to do was make a few stops and they'd win, or, worst case it seemed at the time, the Steelers might get close enough to kick a field goal and the game would go to overtime.

What no one expected was the Patriots defense completely collapsing in on itself allowing a short slant pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster (and can we take just a second to acknowledge that even Key & Peele couldn't come up with a name that great) and let that seemingly innocuous play turn into a 70-yard gain that gave the Steelers the ball inside the Patriots ten with plenty of time left to win the game with a touchdown rather than settling for a tying field goal.

And it looked for all the world like the Steelers did just that when Ben Roethlisberger hit Jesse James--I promise I'm not making these names up--with a pass and James reached out over the goal line for the score. The fans in Pittsburgh went wild but all touchdowns in the last two minutes are reviewed and what the video review found was the James did not have full control of the ball when he reached across the line and the ball hit the turf, essentially saying he did not complete the process of making a full catch before the ball hit the ground. The old saying "if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck" does not hold water when it comes to a catch, at least as the rule is written now.

And so the call of touchdown on the field was reversed, but the Steelers did have more chances to punch the ball in, and here's how they blew it. The Steelers were out of time outs and the clock was running, less than twenty clicks to go, and Roethlisberger tried to fake a spike of the ball, which would have stopped the clock and given them two more downs to try another end zone shot or kick a field goal. Instead he tried to catch the Pats sleeping but his throw to the end zone was tipped into the air on a great diving play by Eric Rowe and the ball floated into the hands of Duron Harmon, who made the interception and secured the win, finally, for New England.

The catch rule will definitely be revisited in the off-season, but unless and until it is, there's no use griping about the call if you're a Pittsburgh fan, because the reversal of the touchdown was the right call according to the rule as written. What this means for New England is that if the Pats can win their last two games of the season against the Bills and and the Jets they'll have home field throughout the playoffs, no matter what the Steelers do the rest of the way.

The Philadelphia Eagles will get a first round bye in the playoffs after bating the NY Giants 34-29 behind four touchdowns from Nick Foles, who must carry the burden of expectations for Eagles fans still pining for the team's first Superbowl win now that starter and potential MVP candidate Carson Wentz is out for the rest of the year with injury.

In men's college basketball the Saint Michael's Purple Knights notched their second win of the season, beating Post University 81-68 in Connecticut last night.

Levi Holmes III led the way with 27 points for St. Mike's and the Purple Knights as a team seemed to benefit from an extended rest, having not played in eight days, and it showed by shooting 50% from the field for the game. No rest for the Purple Knights after that eight day layoff, however. They'll play again tonight on the road against the New York Institute of Technology.

In women's college hoops, The University of Vermont Catamounts hung tough with Northeastern, and got another great performance from Hannah Crymble, who scored 32 points to go with six rebounds, but the Huskies prevailed in a 71-66 victory on Tom Brennan Court. UVM played a physical game, out-rebounding Northeastern 32 to 26 on the night and the difference came down to 3-point shooting, with the Huskies hitting from beyond the arc fifteen times as they improve to 4-5 and the Catamounts drop to 2-9 overall.


A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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