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NFL: Ref botched Polamalu call

| Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2006

After further review ...

The NFL acknowledged Monday that referee Pete Morelli made a mistake in Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game between the Steelers and Indianapolis Colts. The call could have cost the Steelers a victory.

Mike Pereira, the league's vice president of officiating, said in a statement that Morelli should have upheld his crew's original call Sunday when Steelers safety Troy Polamalu intercepted a pass from quarterback Peyton Manning with 5:26 to play.

The Colts asked that the play be reviewed, and the call was reversed and ruled an incomplete pass. It seemed clear on replays that Polamalu had possession of the ball on a diving catch -- then rolled on the ground and lost it while attempting to rise to his feet -- but the officiating crew called the Colts offense back onto the field.

Four plays later, Indianapolis scored a touchdown and added a two-point conversion to make it 21-18 with 4:24 remaining.

The Steelers ultimately won the game to advance to the AFC Championship game, but only after Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt with 17 seconds to play.

If Polamalu's interception had been upheld, the Steelers would have had the ball at their 48 with a 21-10 lead.

The league does not typically make its reviews public.

"The definition of a catch -- or in this case an interception -- states that in the process of making a catch, a player must maintain possession of the ball after he contacts the ground," Pereira said in his statement.

"The initial call on the field was that Troy Polamalu intercepted the pass because he maintained possession of the ball after hitting the ground. The replay showed that Polamalu had rolled over and was rising to his feet when the ball came loose. He maintained possession long enough to establish a catch. Therefore, the replay review should have upheld the call on the field that it was a catch and fumble.

"The rule regarding the performing of an act common to the game applies when there is contact with a defensive player and the ball comes loose, which did not happen here."

A Steelers spokesman said the team would not comment on the league's response, saying only that its attention has turned to the Denver Broncos and the AFC championship game Sunday at Invesco Field.

After Sunday's game, Steelers linebacker Joey Porter accused the NFL of a conspiracy against the Steelers, claiming the top-seeded Colts and Manning were receiving special treatment.

"We dominated the whole game -- till the referees wanted to help them," Porter said. "I couldn't believe they were going to try to cheat us like that, for real. That was my thing. After we made that play, I thought the game was over. ... I'm going to get in trouble for it, I already know I'm going to get in trouble for it, but I'm ready to pay (the fine) anyway, because that's how mad I was with the refs out there.

"That was the worst I've ever been a part of. When you play in games, you feel (sometimes) like it might not be going your way. But that was cheatin' right there, man."

Morelli released a statement after the game that claimed the ruling was correct.

"What do we gotta do to make an interception?" Porter said. "He caught the ball, rolled on the ground, got up and knocked the ball out of his hand with his knee. How can you say that's not an interception?"

Coach Bill Cowher said after the game that the officiating crew never explained the reversal.

"They didn't. I just listened to it," he said. "At that point, when they change it ... It's like I told our guys, don't dwell on it because there's nothing we can do. They either overturn it or they don't. Don't worry about it. It doesn't make any difference. They're going to make a ruling and we're moving on."

The game featured several controversial calls, including a non-call after the Colts defense either jumped offside or the Steelers were guilty of a false start. Play was stopped, but neither team was issued a penalty.

"That was bizarre," Cowher said.

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