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Steelers' Rooney supports changing NFL catch rule

Joe Rutter
| Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, 2:24 p.m.
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.
Don Wright/AP
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.
Steelers tight end Jesse James (81) catches a pass then twists to stretch the ball into the end zone for a touchdown against the New England Patriots with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. Upon video review, the touchdown call was reversed and the pass was ruled incomplete. The Patriots held on to win 27-24.
Don Wright/AP
Steelers tight end Jesse James (81) catches a pass then twists to stretch the ball into the end zone for a touchdown against the New England Patriots with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. Upon video review, the touchdown call was reversed and the pass was ruled incomplete. The Patriots held on to win 27-24.
The Eagles' Corey Clement catches a pass that was ruled a touchdown in Philadelphia's Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.
Getty Images
The Eagles' Corey Clement catches a pass that was ruled a touchdown in Philadelphia's Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.

With the Super Bowl in the books, the NFL isn't wasting any time moving on to 2018 and fixing the most complex and controversial rule on the books:

What exactly constitutes a catch?

The NFL competition committee, of which Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is a member, is meeting Friday in New York to begin the process of implementing rules changes for the 2018 season.

High on the agenda is the rule that worked against the Steelers and tight end Jesse James in the regular season but benefitted the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl when touchdown catches by running back Corey Clement and tight end Zach Ertz were upheld after video review.

Ertz's winning touchdown with 2 minutes, 21 seconds left was similar to the James non-catch ruling from the regular season with the exception that Ertz was deemed a runner and "survived the ground" when the ball popped loose as he lunged into the end zone.

Steelers president Art Rooney II said the rule was applied correctly in the Super Bowl, but he is happy the competition committee will review it this offseason.

"I'm for looking at the rule," Rooney said this week. "There should be a change."

Rooney has an ally on the committee in Tomlin. He is one of two coaches on the eight-man committee, the other being the newest member, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who was added in September.

The addition of Payton increased the number of committee members to 11. However, retired Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith are no longer on the committee.

The committee consists of chairman Rich McKay of the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy, owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Stephen Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, and general managers Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens and John Elway of the Denver Broncos in addition to Tomlin and Payton.

"I think that we all can acknowledge that all of this needs to be revisited. It's not just that play," Tomlin said in December after the James touchdown was overturned in the Steelers' 27-24 loss to the New England Patriots. "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."

As written, a receiver must maintain control of the football until he has the ball long enough "to clearly become a runner," which is defined as happening when "after his second foot hits the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field or taking additional steps."

The rule also states when a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass he must maintain possession until after "initial contact with the ground."

Al Riveron, in his first season as the NFL's senior vice president of officiating, ruled James did not "survive the ground" and reversed the touchdown call on the field. It was the mostly hotly debated call of the season, one that denied the Steelers a potential win and home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

"I think the Jesse James play was actually called the right way. That's the way the rule reads," Rooney said. "But I don't think that should be the rule. I think he had possession of that ball, reached into the end zone and had possession when he was reaching in. If he was a running back, that would have been a touchdown.

"I just think having consistency in the way plays are officiated like that, I think we have room to improve."

After the committee's meeting Friday, it will reconvene after the NFL Combine to draft rule change proposals and positions. The committee will prepare a report to be voted on at the league's annual meeting in late March.

The 32 NFL owners will vote on the proposed rules changes at the annual meeting, with 75 percent approval needed (24 "yes" votes) to enact a change.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.comor via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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