PITTSBURGH – Antonio Brown could not stop hitting rewind. Over and over again the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver watched himself tightrope down the sideline on the final play against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday.
Things always start off so well, with Ben Roethlisberger hitting Emmanuel Sanders for a 25-yard gain. Next come the five laterals, the last of which ended up in Brown's hands. Then, things get even better. He streaks past one Miami defender, jukes another and catches Dolphins cornerback Chris Clemons out of the corner of his eye.
The only thing between Brown and one of the unlikeliest finishes in NFL history are Clemons' outstretched arms and Brown's equilibrium.
Clemons turned out to be no problem. Physics was another matter entirely.
The left side of Brown's left foot stepped ever so slightly — and ever so clearly — out of bounds at the Miami 12 even as he raced to the end zone, giving the Dolphins a 34-28 victory.
Play over. Game over. Any realistic chance the Steelers had of making the playoffs gone too.
"Just a toe away," Brown said.
Maybe even less than that, leaving Brown to wonder what he could have done differently to give the Immaculate Reception some company in the pantheon of unlikeliest victories in NFL history with something that might have been called the "Heinz Field Heist."
"I think the angle I may have took could have been tighter," Brown said. "But I took that angle being that I didn't want him to touch me or him to push me out of bounds. In that situation I think I gave it all I had."
Just not enough to keep the Steelers from falling to 5-8 on a play that joins a handful of finishes marred by human — and in at least a couple instances video — error, mistakes that altered the course of games, seasons and in some cases, franchises.
WHAT TUCK RULE?: Long before the supermodel wife and the three Super Bowl rings and the spot awaiting for him in Canton, Tom Brady was just a young quarterback trying to rally the New England Patriots in the middle of a blizzard in the middle of January.
The Patriots were trailing the Oakland Raiders 13-10 in the 2002 AFC Divisional playoff game with less than 2 minutes to go. Brady dropped back to pass and was drilled by Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson. The ball came out. The Raiders recovered. The game was over.
Only it wasn't. Officials awarded the Patriots the ball, citing the "Tuck Rule." Referee Walt Coleman ruled that since Brady's arm was moving forward at the time of the hit, he was trying to pass and the play was merely an incompletion. New England tied it before winning in overtime on its way to the franchise's first championship.
The Tuck Rule was eliminated in 2013 by the owners. The Patriots abstained from voting. Wonder why.
NO CATCH I The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were trailing St. Louis by just five points in the fourth quarter of the 1999 NFC title game and driving. Quarterback Shaun King hit Bert Emanuel with a pass that would have given the Bucs a first down as they tried to pull off the upset over "The Greatest Show on Turf."
Instead, the catch was overturned on replay after officials decided the ball moved ever so slightly as Emanuel went to the ground. King's heave to the end zone was batted harmlessly away and the Rams were on their way to the Super Bowl.
BREADBASKET BUMMER: The Steelers haven't always been on the wrong side of a near miss. Pittsburgh was heavily favored to finally reach the Super Bowl under Bill Cowher in the 1996 AFC Championship Game and appeared to be all set after Bam Morris' 1-yard touchdown gave the Steelers a 20-16 lead over Indianapolis with 1:43 left.
Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh drove Indianapolis to the Pittsburgh 29 with 5 seconds remaining. Harbaugh's threw a Hail Mary into a sea of players in the end zone. The seas, somehow, parted and the ball fell right onto the stomach of Colts wide receiver Aaron Bailey as he fell to the ground. One problem. The ball did too. Three Rivers Stadium erupted when the pass was ruled incomplete, sending the Steelers back to the Super Bowl for the first time since in 16 years.
NO CATCH II: There was no instant replay in the NFL in 1979. Had there been, the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty might not have looked so nice and tidy with a pair of back-to-back titles.
The Houston Oilers were down by a touchdown in the third quarter of the AFC Championship game when Dan Pastorini found Mike Renfro in the corner of the end zone. The wide receiver clearly made the catch and slapped two feet on the ground before rolling out of bounds. Clearly, anyway, to everyone but the official on the spot. With no challenge flag to throw, Houston coach Bum Phillips settled for a field goal. Instead of tying the game, the Oilers trailed 17-13 and lost 27-13.
THE FUMBLE: Sorry Cleveland, this one goes on here too. During their previous incarnation, the Browns were actually pretty good. Sometimes really good. Twice in the 1980s they made it to the AFC Championship Game. Twice they lost in excruciating fashion.
Denver's John Elway led "The Drive," going 98 yards to tie the 1987 AFC Championship before winning in overtime. A year later, "The Fumble" did the Browns in. Cleveland was down by a touchdown but at the Denver 3 with 1:12 left in the fourth. Quarterback Bernie Kosar gave it to running back Earnest Byner, who was having a remarkable game.
Byner sprinted to the end zone. He got there sure enough. The ball did not. Denver's Jeremiah Castille stripped it as Byner neared the goal line. The Broncos fell on it and Cleveland's title drought is at 49 years and counting.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org