I hate to use the word "cheated" with reference to the New England Patriots, at least as it pertains to their 27-24 victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday.
New England didn't cheat. Nobody did, really.
But the Steelers surely were cheated, as were the fans who stood in a packed stadium and cheered their lungs out for what seemed like five-straight minutes, after JuJu Smith-Schuster took a crossing pass from Ben Roethlisberger and raced 69 yards to the 10 with just 34 seconds left, a play that was quickly followed by a 10-yard touchdown catch by tight end Jesse James to give Pittsburgh a bye-clinching 31-27 victory.
Or so it seemed.
But in the NFL, what used to be a catch hasn't been one for quite some time.
It's hard to say what a catch is these days, but even when one passes the eye-test, the technicalities of modern NFL football that have mostly to do with instant replay reviews get in the way and gum up the works, as Myron Cope used to say.
Sure, strictly by the letter of the law, James might have not maintained possession all the way to the ground after pulling in a pass just shy of the end zone (although, what evidence there was to overturn the initial call of a touchdown remains a mystery to me).
But you can't tell me what James did on that play wasn’t a touchdown. You can't tell me the Steelers shouldn't be 12-2 right now, with a top seed all but wrapped up, heading into the final two weeks of the season.
You can't tell me the Steelers didn't outplay the Patriots for 59:32 seconds and didn’t deserve to win on Sunday night.
Yes, the Patriots find ways to win, and two plays after the NFL overturned the James touchdown, Roethlisberger was picked off in the end zone with just five seconds remaining, thus putting control of the No. 1 seed in New England's hands, and perhaps setting up another trip to Gillette Stadium for Pittsburgh in a few weeks or so.
Now, instead of the Steelers being able to breathe a little bit over the final two games, they must find a way to reach 13 victories or hope the Jaguars don't reach 12.
Otherwise, they can probably kiss even a bye, bye-bye.
The entire playoff field could have been altered on Sunday evening at Heinz Field. It was, actually, by three players—JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jesse James and Ben Roethlisberger.
Unfortunately, the NFL stepped in and altered it in favor of the team everyone calls the Cheatriots.
Again, though, the Patriots didn't cheat on Sunday. The NFL didn't cheat, either.
But as I sit here, still numb from what I thought would be another fantastic finish in a season full of them, I really feel like I've been cheated as a fan.
If you're a Steelers fan, a football fan or anything but a Patriots fan, I'm guessing you're feeling pretty much the same way.