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Browns vs. Steelers final play. Did Pittsburgh get home-field advantage?

This one play is not being talked about much

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns playing on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football was a sloppy game for both offenses while each defense shined.

The Browns must have been in a festive mood as they gave the Steelers 17 points. By losing by four, Cleveland should have won the game.

They had the ball with 2:55 left in the game at their own 25-yard line and down by four. Almost three minutes is an eternity. Earlier in the game K Dustin Hopkins had missed a 43-yard field goal, so the Browns needed a touchdown to go ahead.

In his career, QB Deshaun Watson has had 10 fourth-quarter game-winning drives so this was not new territory for him. Right off, rookie right tackle Dawand Jones had a false start. Two eight-yard passes bring forth a new set of downs. A 14-yard completion to Elijah Moore plus a three-yard Watson scramble now had the ball at midfield as the two-minute warning commenced.

On second-and-seven, the pass to Moore fell incomplete. Third down Watson was flushed with yet another jailbreak pass rush and did not make it back to the line of scrimmage as the sixth sack was tallied. Coming up, fourth-and-nine at the Steelers’ 49-yard line with 1:00 remaining. The offense had to go for it despite the down-and-distance working against them. On this drive, the Browns had converted two first downs.

Up next: the play

Watson lined up once again in shotgun formation. Four receiver set. The game’s most productive receiver Amari Cooper lined up far left with Moore in the slot to his right. On the rightside, TE David Njoku was just off the tackle Jones while Donovan Peoples-Jones lined up near the sideline. RB Jerome Ford was stationed in the backfield as an extra blocker.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Ford went into motion to the rightside slot. Snap came clean from center Ethan Pocic. The Steelers rushed just four on five blockers. The pocket remained clean as Watson heaved a tight spiral towards the 35-yard line where DPJ was running downfield as Njoku had worked his way open at the 42, one-yard shy of the first down marker with the nearest defender several yards away.

The ball appeared to have sailed and would be uncatchable, but on the replay, the throw was right at DPJ and very catchable. It was ruled incomplete, and Pittsburgh’s ball. The Steelers’ bench went crazy as did the home throng of 67,576, a 99% capacity crowd.

Cameras pan the crowd for celebratory Steelers fans as well as dejected Browns backers. The broadcast showed only one replay and then moved on.

Up next: the replay

The replay was from a camera angle from the end zone Cleveland was driving toward. The cameraman had in full-frame, DPJ coming off the line as rookie CB Joey Porter, Jr. jammed him right as he came off his break.

Immediately, Porter grabs DPJ’s jersey on the left shoulder pad near the TV numbers with his right hand and latches on. DPJ uses his left arm and hand to swat away the apparent hold and heads up the field while already turning his head towards Watson and the eventual flight of the ball.

As Porter catches up with DPJ, he once again grabs and holds the left upper jersey near the sleeve striping.

DPJ now sees the ball coming his way and turns his entire body sideways towards the ball. Porter still has ahold of his jersey with his right hand and then grabs DPJ’s right shoulder pad at the bottom of the main body cushion which covers the chest.

As DPJ begins to reach upwards with his right hand, Porter slides his left hand off the shoulder pad bottom and positions it underneath DPJ’s upper arm extremity and folds it upwards which is now locked on his elbow. This action prohibits the receiver from lifting his hand up at all basically making DPJ a one-handed player.

As the football begins to descend closer, Porter releases DPJ’s jersey and raises that hand to attempt to swat the ball away but still has DPJ’s other hand locked. This forces DPJ to reach for the pass with only his left hand and misses touching the ball by inches. Only as the ball goes out of bounds does Porter release DPJ’s right elbow and finally free his arm.

In the replay, it shows the line judge about 10 yards from both players looking right at the play with an angle that certainly showed the jersey hold.

As the replay is being shown to the television audience the single time it was viewed, commentator Joe Buck states:

“A game that has seen four lead changes and the two defenses showing so much here in Week 2. In essence ends with this grab of the jersey.”

Immediately analyst Troy Aikman chimed in:

“Yeah, he’s got both hands. And that’s what I saw when it was happening and thought we might get a call. Maybe the official where he was doesn’t catch it. Or is it deemed an uncatchable ball I don’t know. This one’s in the books and the Steelers win.”

For the record and going frame-by-frame with the replay, the ball did not sail and was only inches from DPJ’s one-handed grasp. If he had been able to use both hands, it appears to be a certainty that he would have caught it and was definitely out of Porter’s reach. Now, the replay does not show how close DPJ was to the sideline which means he may or may not have been able to catch it inbounds. It does appear that DPJ is very close to the white line. But a collected pass reception would have been beyond the first down marker and then the game continues.

If a penalty is called before the ball is thrown the call should have been holding. If the call is made after Watson throws the rock, then it is pass interference. Either way, it becomes an automatic first down. At no time did the referees signal an uncatchable pass.

Did the Browns deserve a flag and another set of downs?

One thing is for certain, Porter held DPJ not once, but three times and got away with all three as the play sealed the win.

The Jumbotron at Heinz Field/Acrisure Stadium only showed the replay once as well and then it was gone. That is the advantage of having home field technicians in your corner. If it is shown too many times, it becomes red flag time. Except, the NFL repealed the pass interference replay review after a one-year experiment in 2020. So, if Porter’s hold wasn’t called on the field, it wasn’t going to change.

The play was basically the final play of the game. If this was in the first quarter, does it get called? If it is eight minutes to go in the contest, again, does the yellow laundry fly? The jersey shoulder grab was blatantly obvious while the armbar move was more concealed.

The below video has a different angle beginning at 1:18:

It was an egregious collection of defensive moves by a defender who was being beaten.

The loss placed the debut of the new white-striped helmets as having a 0-1-0 record.

Did the Browns deserve a flag and another set of downs? After the game, the referees had to make it to their cars as well.


Put on your zebra shirt. Should Porter have been flagged for a penalty?

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    Yes: Holding
    (218 votes)
  • 50%
    Yes: Pass interference
    (316 votes)
  • 6%
    The pass seemed to be uncatchable to me
    (38 votes)
  • 7%
    Game is over: Move along
    (48 votes)
620 votes total Vote Now