Unfortunately, the NFL season came to an end for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Even after a resounding 20-7 win over the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers needed help outside of their control.
And it appeared they were getting all the help they needed. The New York Jets defeated the Miami Dolphins, and the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens in early kickoffs. The planets were almost in alignment.
This meant the only shoe left to drop was for the Kansas City Chiefs to beat the San Diego Chargers on the road. It seemed like a tall task considering Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had chosen to bench nearly all of his starters. The strategy made no sense, but they were going with it.
The good news was no one bothered to tell the Chiefs' backups they couldn't win. The Chiefs came out with fresh legs and tons of intensity and were taking it to a Chargers team who had everything to play for.
However, as the game wound down the Chargers had pulled even with the Chiefs, 24-24 with only seconds to play. The Chiefs had milked the clock down and were setting up for kicker Ryan Succop to kick the game-winning 41-yard field goal.
The kick had plenty of leg, but tragically stayed just barely wide right, forcing overtime. At the time, it was just a disappointing play that led to overtime. However, upon a second look, there was a blatant missed penalty against the Chargers, illustrated in the image and tweet below.
Looking at this, it is clear that by rule, the Chargers had too many men on the right side of the line of scrimmage. A play like this falls into a similar category as too many men on the field. It is something officials check for every time. Nonetheless, this time they didn't bother, and so the Chiefs didn't get a second chance to win the game in regulation.
Obviously, this was no sure thing. Even if the officials had made the proper call, there is nothing absolute about the call that means the Chiefs would have made the follow-up kick.
So why not jump ahead to the blown call that would have won the game for the Chiefs without a doubt? Since you asked, let's do that.
The Chargers won the toss and took the ball first. By rule a team must score a safety or touchdown on the opening drive to win in overtime. A field goal allows the opposing team an opportunity to score.
However, the Chargers' opening drive stalled, and they found themselves with 4th-and-2 at their own 28-yard line. Rather than punt, the Chargers run a fake via a direct snap to safety Eric Weddle. Weddle plows forward to the first down with the help of his teammates pushing him from behind.
During Weddle's surge, Chiefs running back Cyrus Gray stripped Weddle of the football and sprinted to the end zone for the winning touchdown. Unfortunately, after a momentary conference it was decided that Weddle was down by contact prior to the strip. First down for San Diego and the Chiefs standing in awe.
San Diego ultimately goes down and gets what proves to be the game-winning field goal.
Upon closer examination, it appears that Weddle wasn't even close to down by contact. No knee was down, and he was still moving forward when the strip occurred. There was no whistle. Yet the officials felt in no way compelled to review the play. And as a point of fact, coaches cannot challenge in overtime.
Former Vice President of officiating Mike Pereira sent out these tweets that seem to support their notion that it was a second egregious call.
In KC/SD game, Linesman ruled that progess was stopped at the 30 before the helmet came off or the ball came loose. I don't agree. (cont)— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) December 30, 2013
Replay did not stop the game because the ruling of forward progress is not reviewable. Should have been a strip and TD in my opinion.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) December 30, 2013
The reason I say progress was not stopped is the surge of the pile is going forward. Teammate is pushing runner forward.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) December 30, 2013
There are two things of importance about this whole scenario. This entire thing matters much more to the Steelers than the Chiefs. The Steelers had spent the previous 12 games fighting back from an 0-4 start. They needed help to get into the playoffs but on Sunday had done their part.
That doesn't mean Chiefs fans shouldn't be outraged. The Kansas City backups went into hostile territory and played a helluva game. And that effort was snuffed out by the continued incompetence of the league's officials.
Did the officials cost the Steelers a playoff spot?
Now, before anyone starts in, yes some of this is sour grapes. It is hard enough to know you have to sit back and wait nearly four hours to decide your fate and there is nothing you can do about it. And yes, had the Steelers "handled their business" as they say during the season, this wouldn't have mattered.
However, the fact is they didn't handle it, and so this mattered a great deal. And for all the fans of other teams who weren't in this predicament, don't kid yourself that you'd be any less indignant about having it snatched away due to incompetent officiating. It is a league-wide issue, and it really diminished what is the greatest sport in the world.