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    CBS rules analyst says 2 crucial plays from Steelers-Bengals carry important NFL officiating lessons

    According to one former NFL referee, two important officiating lessons could be learned from key moments during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 23-20 overtime win Sunday in Cincinnati.

    During his weekly WDVE radio hit Tuesday morning, retired NFL referee turned CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore (Washington, Pa.) said one controversial call may have been avoided by better positioning from one of the on-field officials.

    The play in question was receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s near touchdown along the Steelers sideline with 2:49 left in the game.

    As you can see in the link, the play was ruled a completion, but just short of scoring a touchdown even though Chase’s right foot clearly touched the goal line. Surprisingly, down 20-14 at the time, the Bengals coaching staff never challenged the play to see if Chase managed to break the plane of the end zone once he had possession of the ball.

    The Steelers then had a goal line stand and forced the Bengals to give them the ball back on downs, before the Bengals eventually tied the game with a touchdown on the next series anyway.

    Most folks who saw the play in slow motion thought Chase scored and that the play had a chance to be overturned, but Bengals head coach Zac Taylor never challenged the call.

    “That’s the hardest place for us to see in the entire field is that spot,” Taylor said after the game. “I didn’t think there was a chance there was a touchdown there initially. So we got on the ball to run it in quickly. It’s hard with all the craziness in that moment, all the communication to get that, ‘Stop, stop, let’s evaluate this.’”

    Chase himself didn’t think he got in, so he never lobbied for a review. Had he done so, maybe the entire crazy sequence of a missed extra point or T.J. Watt’s injury, or the wild overtime never happens.

    Or, perhaps if the official near the pylon was in better position, a different call is made on the field.

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    “The young official that was on the goal line took a step that you would normally take throughout the game. When a play is coming at you, you step back and retreat. You allow the play to pass you, and then you start to officiate in front of that player,” Steratore explained. “But when you are on the goal line, you don’t leave the goal line. You just continue to back up. You are usually telling camera guys behind you, ‘I need more depth just in case it is a pylon play.’ But you never give up the goal line. It’s like a shield. But he stepped away. I believe that subtle one step created an angle for him where he couldn’t process it quickly enough, and (he) did it incorrectly.”

    The official Steratore referenced is Anthony Flemming. According to Pro Football Reference, this is his third NFL season. His first two were spent as a side judge. He is now a field judge. So that was his first NFL game in that role.

    As far as why the Bengals didn’t challenge, beyond the threat of losing a timeout, Steratore speculated that perhaps the Bengals were worried if the play was reviewed — either via his own challenge or if the booth decided to initiate a review — that Chase’s catch may have been deemed incomplete.

    The other play Steratore discussed was Dionate Johnson’s amazing one-handed, toe-tap catch in overtime.

    That play was initially ruled incomplete and later overturned. Steratore advised that NFL officials may be wise to lean toward the presumption that NFL players do the unlikely on plays such as Johnson’s. Then be overturned by replay if necessary, instead of presuming that the play couldn’t have been made.

    “We used to tell the young officials, ‘When you were (officiating) college, and you thought, is it a catch or isn’t it on the sideline, a lot of times it wasn’t a catch. When you get to the NFL, and you are indecisive, go with … they made the play,” Steratore said. “Because they do crazy things, and they are amazing athletes. When in doubt give it to him, (because) he probably did it.”

    Johnson certainly did a crazy thing on that catch.

    Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.



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