The Pittsburgh Steelers defense intercepted 2 passes late in the fourth quarter to secure a 23-19 victory against the Green Bay Packers during Week 10. But the Steelers may not have been in that position if not for a ruling on a Kenny Pickett pass attempt in the first half.
With 3:33 remaining in the second quarter at the Steelers 16-yard line, Pickett targeted running back Jaylen Warren on a swing pass. Rather than leading Warren into the flat, Pickett’s throw was behind Warren. The running back didn’t adjust quickly enough and dropped the ball.
The officials blew the whistle and ruled the pass incompletion. But the CBS broadcasting crew proposed the possibility of the attempt being backwards, which would have made Warren’s drop a fumble.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur challenged the play. Upon further review, the officials kept the incomplete pass ruling.
LaFleur, though, remained convinced the attempt was backwards during his postgame press conference.
“I thought it was pretty clear to me, but somebody else felt differently, so I guess that’s the way it is,” LaFleur told reporters after the game. “I guess I was wrong.”
Packers linebacker Rashan Gary picked up the ball after Warren’s drop and returned the ball into the end zone. Had the officials ruled Pickett’s attempt backwards, Green Bay would have at least had the ball inside the Steelers 10-yard line.
Steelers Fortunate on Forward Pass Ruling?
As CBS Sports rules analyst Gene Steratore said it during the game, it’s difficult to change a forward pass ruling through replay. Steratore explained with multiple camera angles that it’s not clear and obvious that the attempt wasn’t forward.
Steratore went through the replay review process on X (formerly Twitter) after the play remained as an incompletion.
“For many rulings, officials will ‘piece’ together angles to paint the full picture of the play,” Steratore wrote. “This eliminates the perception of bias that you can have from certain camera angles.”
Steratore argued that because Pickett’s throwing arm is behind his back leg when he releases the ball, the ball appears to leave his hand at the 9.25-yard line.
It’s difficult to then definitively say that the ball touches Warren’s hands behind the 9.25-yard line.
The reverse angle is more favorable for LaFleur and the Packers. Warren’s hands appear to be at the 9-yard line when he touches the ball.
“We’d like some answers on this one, NFL,” tweeted Levi. “That puppy is backwards by a yard.”
It wouldn’t be backwards by a yard because, again, Pickett’s right arm is not at the 10-yard line like his left shoulder appears to be. But this angle shows Warren to be at the 9-yard line when he reaches behind for the ball.
Officials Whistle Factor on Controversial Play
Ultimately, it was too close for NFL officials to feel comfortable overturning the call on the field. No matter what the original ruling was on the play, that was going to stand.
But there was also some question as to whether the Packers should have even been allowed to challenge the play.
“Not sure how this can be challenged on the pass,” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Christopher Carter wrote on X. “Officials blew the play dead before anyone recovered the ball.”
Typically, to rule a change of possession via a fumble, the replay must show a clear recovery. While Gary does recover the ball before going out of bounds, the replay audio indicates that his recovery occurs after the whistle.
Regardless of what replay shows, plays are always over when the whistle blows.
Fortunately for the Steelers, the officials didn’t have to determine what to do about the whistle coming before the recovery because the play stood as an incomplete pass.