More controversial: Measuring a first down with an index card, or Steelers catch rule?

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There were some fun, great games on Sunday in the NFL. And in each of the two most visible games of the day, an officiating controversy ruled.

The New England Patriots’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and then the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the Oakland Raiders will be remembered for rulings that drove fans insane. But which made people angrier?


Tony Dungy made a good point on “Sunday Night Football” about the NFL’s catch rule. Dungy said the NFL is still trying to justify the infamous Calvin Johnson play in 2010, by complicating the catch rule to the point that nobody knows what’s a catch.

Dungy also made another point that can also be true: The officials did call it right, based on the way the rule has been enforced for years.

If you’ve watched the NFL recently, you saw Steelers tight end Jesse James catch a touchdown pass, but knew it would be overturned when you saw the replay. The ball hit the ground and moved when it hit the ground.

It just stinks that who represents the AFC in the Super Bowl might ultimately be decided on this:

This was also interesting: NFL vice president of football communications Michael Signora tweeted out a pool report with the referee of the game. The NFL doesn’t often go out of its way to publicize pool reports, but it clearly wanted to let people know the officials were correct.


We’ve seen the catch rule rear its ugly head many times. Nobody could ever remember an official measuring a first down with the help of an index card.

On a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were close to a first down on a Dak Prescott quarterback sneak. Really close. So close, it was almost impossible to see on TV if they got it or not. Then referee Gene Steratore set social media on fire.

After what seemed like a really long look by all the officials at the ball and the first-down marker, Steratore pulled out an index card and stuck it between the ball and the first-down marker. Then he gave the Cowboys a first down. Raiders fans wake up every day believing the NFL is biased against their team, and that ruling won’t fix that paranoia. This led to NBC’s Cris Collinsworth in the booth using a folded piece of paper to show that the direction Steratore used to measure could have affected his decision. Yes, it was that ridiculous.

The Cowboys got a field goal at the end of that drive, and those points were the difference in a 20-17 win.

In this case the official also met with a pool reporter, and Steratore said the card just reaffirmed what he saw. In retrospect, he would have been better off just eyeing it and calling the first down, because his unique measurement method set off a controversy that we’ll remember a while.

The funny thing is, both calls were probably right. The catch rule was applied properly, no matter how much we all hate the rule itself. Steratore was convinced the Cowboys got the first down and the card just showed what he saw was right, he said.

But nobody seems calm about either call.

Gene Steratore measured a first down with the help of an index card. ( screen shot)
Gene Steratore measured a first down with the help of an index card. ( screen shot)

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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