The Monday Show Prep

posted by Steve Bortstein -

Patriots 27, Steelers 24

That photo, right there, will likely define the entire postseason in the AFC.

With less than a minute to go in the highly anticipated showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, it appeared the defending champions were well on their way to another hard-fought victory.

Overcoming a 4th quarter deficit, Dion Lewis scored what would be the game-winning touchdown for the Patriots with 56 seconds left on the clock.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, on the other side of the field, has been here before, having his heart nearly physically removed on the field by the surgeon-like status of Patriots ringleader Tom Brady.

Roethlisberger had one final chance, and he took advantage of it. A near 70-yard completion to JuJu Smith-Schuster gave the Steelers an opportunity to tie the game at 27, or to perhaps stick a knife into the heart of Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and anyone else associated with the Patriots.

Alas, it was not to be.

With the ball on the 10-yard line and 28 seconds remaining, Roethlisberger found tight end Jesse James in front of the end zone. A dive across the plane in the front of the end zone and it was over. 

Right?

Nope. Replay officials reviewed the pass completion ruling and determined James didn't have control of the ball upon reaching across the plane. The pass completion was reversed, setting Twitter and all other forms of social media on fire. 

Two plays later, Roethlisberger throws an ill-advised pass into the heart of the Patriots secondary. The ball is batted away from intended receiver Eli Rogers and into the hands of Patriots defender Duron Harmon to seal the victory.

In case you haven't seen the chain of events, here's your video...

And just to torture you some more, here's a couple of really good photos of what looks like is going to be a game-winning touchdown catch.

From NFL rules analyst Mike Pereira, via Twitter: If you’re going to the ground you have to hold onto the ball when the ball hits the ground…Going to the ground trumps lunging/reaching to try and get extra yards or score a TD. You do that at your own risk. It’s incomplete…just ask Dez.

Neither the explanation, nor the enactment of the rule itself, are going to be satisfactory for Steelers fans, and quite frankly it shouldn't be. James crosses the plane of the end zone with the ball, he makes a football move after the catch to dive across the plane and it's just time the league and its officials can come to some rational conclusion, once and for all, about what the catch rule actually is and is not.

Because fans don't like to be made to feel stupid, they don't like it when they're not in on the decision-making process and they don't like it when stories don't go a certain way.

Are those emotional reactions to a logical situation? Of course they are and neither the league nor the officials are interested in your Twitter tirades, but as I sat there at my house last night and watched this game unfold, I felt cheated at the end knowing that other forces than the ones who I wanted to see compete in this game got involved in the outcome.

Yes, the Steelers had two more plays with the football inside the 10-yard line. Yes, Roethlisberger and the Steelers coaching staff are probably kicking themselves for the errant pass which was intercepted to essentially end the game.

But I can't argue with those this morning who are going to say the officials stole this one.

I'll try and defend the wording of the rule, but I know that's becoming more and more difficult to do with each instance when this occurs.

Cowboys 20, Raiders 17

Keeping hope alive in the NFC right now are the Dallas Cowboys, and with the anticipated return of running back Ezekiel Elliott this coming weekend, you have to like the way this team is trending right now.

Dallas kept alive their postseason hopes last night with a 20-17 win on the road over the Oakland Raiders.

And while many will point to to rather lackluster numbers put up offensively by the Cowboys last night, it was another tough outing by their defense which helped them to the win.

The Cowboys will face a rather sketchy Seattle Seahawks team at home on Christmas Eve before a regular season finale on the road at Philadelphia, who may or may not even go with their main starters if they've already wrapped up the top seed in the NFC.   

Ravens 27, Browns 10

I know this doesn't do you any good at all if you're a faithful fan of the Cleveland Browns.

And I understand it.... the nagging frustration, the hand-wringing, the struggle to keep a positive attitude when all seems hopeless.

But that's just it. Too many of you are approaching this totally the wrong way.

We live today in a culture where your bravery and your desire to be unique is chastised, criticized and attacked.

We live today in a culture that demeans your progressive status, it egregiously stamps your individuality as a threat to the so-called norms of day-to-day life.

The Browns loss to the Ravens yesterday is more proof that the resistance is real. That the desire to be unique, bold and "out there" is a growing movement.

I applaud all of you Browns fans out there who are slowly but surely beginning to buy in to the campaign I've affectionately referred to as "Hug the Zero".

Don't you dare blow this now. The mere fact that your football team couldn't lay down like dogs last year against the San Diego Chargers to finish off the 2016 season with a meaningless record of 1 and 15 still irks me to this day.

Imagine if you - as fans - would be fortunate enough to witness two spectacular seasons of nothingness. No hope, no wins, no reason to be optimistic about anything other than the reality that your desire to be different is celebrated by some of us out here bravely widening the path towards acceptance.

That was the final home game of the Browns season yesterday, so at the very least, those having to live in that city won't have to worry about shoveling their way out of a blizzard to watch them play at home the rest of the season. 

It's on the road to Chicago and Pittsburgh to wrap up the season.

I'm hopeful. I'm cheering for you, Cleveland. 

Hug the zero. 

Welcome Back....

Today's First Sports, in addition to being the first one back from vacation, also marks the first day of our annual countdown of the top ten sports stories of the calendar year.

We'll look back at some of the biggest stories from 2017, the impact they had on us as sports fans and hy these stories may or may not have resonated with everyone.

Today, we begin the countdown with the still-ongoing tale of LaVar Ball and the Big Baller Brand.

We'll hear from the characters and chat with a pair of guests as to why the Ball Family Chronicles were such a big story for much of this year. 

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