A former NFL referee and CBS Sports NFL rules analyst Gene Steratore believes Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had "a valid point," in his criticism of officiating during the final seconds of regulation during his team's 23-20 overtime Sunday Night Football victory against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6, though he does believe officials "initiated the stop game correctly."
Steratire commented on the decision to stop play for a review after Seahawks wide receiver Freddie Swain recovered a DK Metcalf fumble inbounds with the clock running via TribLIVE.
Seattle quickly picked up the ball, ran it to the line of scrimmage, and spiked it with one second left as officials attempted to blow the play dead for a review of Metcalf's catch.
“They initiated the stop game correctly,” Steratore said of the on-field crew, pointing out that on-field and booth review judges are told to wait until the last moment possible prior to a snap before stopping play during a no-time-out, running clock situation, as was the case during the play in question.
In doing so, officials lower the potential of awarding the offense extra seconds of stopped time if it's decided that a replay is unnecessary and the call undisputably stands.
"I hated it," Tomlin said via ESPN. "I hated it. I cannot believe that game was stopped to confirm catch/no catch in that moment. That's all I'm going to say. It was an embarrassment."
Officials determined Metcalf did have possession and, therefore, left three seconds on the clock instead of one. Seattle then had time to spike the ball again and set up a 43-yard field goal by Jason Myers to force overtime as time expired.
The Seahawks still had enough time to kick the field goal without the review but would have faced a much more chaotic situation in their attempt, rather than having extra time to regroup before spiking the ball and bringing on the field goal unit.
Steratore said he understands Tomlin's confusion over why it was necessary to review the play in the first place.
“The initiation of the review itself seemed confusing because of the clarity of the catch itself,” Steratore said, adding "you have to have smoke," in order to review the play.
“It’s a valid point,” Steratore added.
The Steelers also faced a frustrating situation earlier in the quarter when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lost possession of the ball on a pump fake after it was initially ruled an incomplete pass but overturned after Seahawks coach Pete Carroll challenged the call.
"The way we saw it was it needed to be challenged," Carroll said. "And the way they immediately saw it was I think he threw it. That's what we're hearing. So I had to go against what they were telling me. And their assessment happened in just a few -- you know, 20 seconds or something like that.
"And we see real difficult replays go three, four, five minutes or something like that. Well, I thought this play, if, given all of that time, we'd have a chance. And even though they were -- the recommendation is you shouldn't challenge this, I went against it and I threw the flag and stayed with it, you know."
The NFL's "Tuck Rule" (Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2) states the following:
"When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble."
The Steelers eventually won in overtime after kicker Chris Boswell made a 37-yard field goal with 2:50 remaining to improve to 3-3.