Three options to fix the NFL's catch rule – ESPN

11:12 PM ET

Under the NFL’s definition of a catch, the league was right to take away what looked to be a game-winning Jesse James touchdown catch at the end of Sunday night’s Patriots-Steelers game. There are still unanswered questions — notably, if the call was as easy as the explanations of Alberto Riveron and Tony Corrente have suggested, why it took what felt like 10 minutes to overturn the call — but everyone on the league side of things seems to agree that the review was processed properly and led to the correct call.

There have been way too many controversial reversals of touchdowns this season. What happened on Sunday with Jesse James wasn’t one of them.

A dramatic ending to the Steelers-Patriots matchup turned controversial after officials overruled what appeared to be a go-ahead touchdown catch by the Steelers tight end Jesse James — a decision derided by James and several of his teammates.

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Here’s the problem, though: Just about everyone who has watched a football game before also thinks James caught that football. Watch the replay. The Patriots defenders who surround James after the play aren’t arguing it’s incomplete. Bill Belichick, who would have been pictured frantically gesturing on camera in the case he thought it was a drop, isn’t depicted. Jim Nantz says “there’s no doubt it’s going to hold up,” as he and Tony Romo spend two minutes watching replays before it even occurs to them that the ball spun slightly as James hit the ground.

The rule was interpreted correctly, but the rule is bad. There are plenty of problems with the NFL right now, but many of them are either intractable or downright unfixable. The catch rule is not one of them. The NFL has to

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NFL Week 15: Thirty-six takeaways from Sunday –

Sunday of Week 15 is in the books but not without some wild finishes. A few teams punched their ticket to the playoffs today while some are still making their push. Here are some of our big takeaways from the games today:

» The dreaded fumble-through-the-end-zone touchback call.

» The Minnesota Vikings are in a great position to become the first team in NFL history to play a home game in the Super Bowl.

» Jimmy Garoppolo is nothing short of raging magic.

» Jacksonville is officially headed back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and a lot of it has to do with Blake Bortles.

» The nature of the underthrown passes in Aaron Rodgers‘ first three-interception performance since 2009 suggests his arm strength was not yet at full capacity.

Ravens 27, Browns 10

1. Joe Flacco‘s revival to respectability has staying power. While he missed a few of his customary routine throws and took some bad sacks, the Ravens quarterback also delivered a number of high-level connections that were missing early in the season. On a day where the Browns stuffed Ravens running back Alex Collins (19 yards on 11 carries), the Ravens leaned on Flacco to throw it 42 times for 288 yards and a score. He’s set a season-high in yards three straight games.

2. It wasn’t all good news for Baltimore. Ravens receiver Jeremy Maclin left with a knee injury in the first quarter and did not return. Baltimore is already thin at wide receiver and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman was unable to step up in Maclin’s absence. Now 8-6, the Ravens are in great position to make the playoffs by winning their final two games against the Colts and Bengals. But Maclin’s injury could rob them of another sorely needed

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NFL Week 15: Aaron Rodgers can't write a fairy-tale return; Patriots escape Steelers – Washington Post

It was that kind of day for Aaron Rodgers. (Bob Leverone / Associated Press)

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The Carolina Panthers were having nothing to do with the “Aaron Rodgers returns” story line Sunday.

With the Green Bay Packers quarterback playing for the first time since having surgery to repair a broken collarbone a little over eight weeks ago, the Panthers’ defense was smothering and Rodgers, well, Rodgers looked for most of the game as if he’d spent eight-plus weeks in intense rehab. Many of his passes were short, the timing with his receivers was off and, in the end, he had his first three-interception day since 2009. The Panthers won, 31-24.

It didn’t help Rodgers that one of his favorite receivers, Davante Adams, was knocked out of the game with a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit by Thomas Davis midway through the third quarter. Davis, for his part, appeared distraught on the sideline as Packers personnel tended to Adams, who left the field without assistance and was ruled out a concussion.

Here’s a look at the hit Thomas Davis laid on Davante Adams. He’s up and moving. #Packers

— Mike Cianciolo (@MikeCianciolo) December 17, 2017

Earlier this season, Adams spent a night in the hospital after a brutal hit by Danny Trevathan of the Chicago Bears on Sept. 28.

With the loss, the Packers’ playoff hopes are all but over, with a victory by Atlanta on Monday night extinguishing them. Not even Rodgers, who looked like a guy who had two plates and a number of screws placed in his shoulder two months ago, could ride to the rescue. Rodgers finished with an un-Rodgers-like line, completing 29 of 45 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. The downside, those three interceptions, a

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NFL Playoff Picture: Jaguars clinch first playoff berth since 2007, Eagles lock up bye –

The name on the jersey matters, but it probably shouldn’t — everyone looks at the Jacksonville Jaguars and can’t wrap their heads around the idea that the Jaguars are good. Repeat after me: the Jaguars are good.

And Jacksonville is going to have an opportunity to try and win a Super Bowl, because the Jaguars have clinched a playoff berth thanks to their stroll-in-the-park-style victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday. The Jaguars look like a team that will win the AFC South — there is still a game in Week 17 against the Titans that will matter — and they look like a dangerous football team with a filthy defense and a competent quarterback. 

Blake Bortles has transformed into a guy who actually looks like a former first-round pick during the month of December, showcasing a surprising amount of confidence and throwing seven touchdowns to zero interceptions over his last three games while completing more than 70 percent of his passes. It’s a night/day situation for Bortles, and it’s allowing the Jaguars to open up a can on opponents, stretching leads easily and making them less predictable on offense.  

They can run the ball, rush the passer, make plays on passes down the field and have a quarterback who is starting to play at the right time. Imagine a world where they win the division, get a bye week in the playoffs and Blake Bortles wins a playoff game. The Jaguars are immediately going to be forced into paying him like $20 million a year for the next five years. It’s going to be incredible. 

On the NFC side of things, Nick Foles lit up the Giants for four touchdowns, reminding everyone just how much Carson Wentz matters to the Eagles‘ defensive line …

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Vikings rout Bengals, clinch NFC North title –

The Minnesota Vikings are heading to the postseason. The Vikings (11-3) clinched the NFC North title and the playoff berth that comes with it in a 34-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals (5-9) on Sunday. Here’s what we learned from a game that also featured the return of Teddy Bridgewater.

1. The Minnesota Vikings clinched the NFC North crown in resounding fashion. Mike Zimmer’s squad dominated every phase of the game against the coach’s former team. Minnesota earned its second division title in Zimmer’s four-year tenure. Behind a devouring defense, chain-moving offense, and play-making special teams, Sunday’s victory was essentially settled before the end of the first quarter. Moving to 11-3, the win keeps the Vikings in line for a potential first-round bye and possibly leapfrog the Carson Wentz-less Eagles for the top spot in the NFC. With games against the Packers and Bears left, Zimmer’s well-oiled machine is in a great position to become the first team in NFL history to play a home game in the Super Bowl.

2. Case Keenum took a soft sack by Geno Atkins to open the game. The Vikings breezed from there, taking the opening drive 75 yards in nine plays for a Latavius Murray TD plunge. Minnesota needed little more to pummel the Bengals (5-9). Keenum peppered a banged-up Cincinnati defense for big plays, including five of 20-plus yards in the first half alone (one rushing). The Bengals decimated linebacking corps had no answer for Jerick McKinnon in space. The shifty back earned receptions of 41, 31, and 29 yards en route to a 7-catch, 114-yard day (the Vikes’ first 100-yard receiving game from an RB since 2004).

3. The blowout allowed Teddy Bridgewater to make his first regular-season appearance in 714 days. The quarterback, who missed all of 2016 with

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