NFL: Polamalu overturned interception the wrong call

Updated: January 17, 2006, 3:00 AM ET
Associated Press

The NFL said the referee made a mistake: Troy Polamalu caught the ball.

The league acknowledged Monday that referee Pete Morelli erred when he overturned on replay Polamalu's interception of a Peyton Manning pass Sunday in the playoff game between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

Mike Pereira, the league's vice president of officiating, said in a statement that Morelli should have let the call on the field stand.

"He maintained possession long enough to establish a catch," Pereira said. "Therefore, the replay review should have upheld the call on the field that it was a catch and fumble."

After the reversal, made with 5:26 left in Pittsburgh's win over the Colts, Indianapolis went on to score a touchdown and a 2-point conversion, cutting the Steelers' 21-10 lead to 21-18. That led to a wild final few minutes, filled with unbelievable twists and turns, including Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt's missed 46-yard field-goal attempt that clinched it for Pittsburgh.

On the play, Polamalu made a diving catch of Manning's pass, tumbled with it in his hands and got up to run. As he did, he fumbled the ball, then recovered. Colts coach Tony Dungy challenged the call, and Morelli ruled Polamalu had not completed the catch.

Had the call stood, the Steelers would have had the ball at their own 48 with an 11-point lead.

Shortly after the game, Morelli offered the following explanation:

"I had the defender catching the ball. Before he got up, he hit it with his leg with his other leg still on the ground. He never had possession with his leg up off the ground, doing an act common to the game of football. He was losing it while his other leg was still on the ground. Therefore, he did not complete the catch. And then he lost the ball. It came out, and so we made the play an incomplete pass."

Under league officiating procedure, an "act common to the game" is defined as controlling the ball long enough to hand it, pitch it or pass it. But Pereira noted that this definition only applies when there is "contact with a defensive player and the ball comes loose, which did not happen here."

The NFL almost never makes public the result of its reviews, although it did three years ago, when Pereira said officials should have called pass interference against San Francisco on the final play of a wild-card game with the New York Giants. The correct call would have given New York a second chance to kick a game-winning field goal in a 39-38 loss.

The call in Indianapolis incensed Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter, who said after the game: "I know they wanted Indy to win this game; the whole world loves Peyton Manning. But come on, man, don't take the game away from us like that."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello had no comment on Porter's statement.

In the past, players who have made such statements have been subject to fines.

Polamalu's overturned interception wasn't the only unusual call. Earlier in the game, when the Steelers were preparing to go for a fourth-and-inches from the Pittsburgh 48, two Colts defensive lineman ran across the line of scrimmage, pointing at the Steelers as if one of the linemen moved.

The officials stopped the game, but called no penalty.

Replays appeared to show Alan Faneca barely flinched. But Steelers coach Bill Cowher argued the Colts made contact with the linemen, which would have forced an offside call and a first down. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger ran a quarterback sneak for a first down, which allowed Pittsburgh to use another 5:02 before punting.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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