Ja'Marr Chase loses out on touchdown in latest NFL playoff catch controversy: 'That looks like a catch'

Jan 22, 2023; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) makes a leaping catch in the end zone before an official review overturned a touchdown call in the second quarter of the NFL divisional playoff football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills during an AFC divisional round game at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Greene-USA TODAY Sports
Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase makes a leaping catch in the end zone before an official review overturned a touchdown call in the second quarter of Sunday's playoff game. (Sam Greene/USA TODAY Sports)

There are three certainties in every NFL postseason: A champion will be crowned, the Los Angeles Chargers will find a way to blow it in embarrassing fashion and fans everywhere will argue over whether a player actually caught a ball.

One of those bingo squares has already been checked off, as Ja'Marr Chase and the Cincinnati Bengals gave us another Sunday. Chase became the latest wide receiver to be involved in a catch controversy after trying to haul in a would-be touchdown in the second quarter.

The play in question occurred with 1:49 to go in the second quarter. The Bengals led the Buffalo Bills 14-7 at the time, and another Cincinnati touchdown may have broken things open before halftime. For a few moments, it looked like the Bengals did it. Joe Burrow hooked up with Chase in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

Except, the play needed to be reviewed. Chase appeared — on nearly all replays — to catch the ball and get both feet in bounds before falling to the ground. Things looked so clear in some shots that CBS announcer Tony Romo proclaimed, "That looks like a catch."

Was Romo right? Take a look at the most important camera angle and judge for yourself.

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Chase initially makes the catch and get his feet in bounds as he's going to the ground. However, as Chase is hitting the ground, Bills linebacker Matt Milano gets his hand on the ball, knocking it out of Chase's grasp. You can see Chase scrambling to maintain possession at the end of the play. For at least a brief moment, Chase appeared to lose the ball before securing it again.

At least, that's what the refs must have seen. Officials reversed the play, saying Chase did not have possession. The touchdown was taken off the board and the Bengals settled for a field-goal attempt. Evan McPherson made the kick, giving the Bengals a 17-7 lead going into halftime. Cincinnati continued to control the game in the second half as it dominated for a 27-10 victory that clinched its second straight trip to the AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Was that the right call? The ball appears to move at the end of the play, so it's an easy no-catch, right? You could also make the argument Chase had possession when he hit the ground, and Milano didn't jar the ball out until after Chase was down. In normal circumstances, Chase might be ruled down the instant he was on the ground and touched by Milano, but not here.

This is ... eerily similar to just about every other catch controversy NFL fans have experienced over the past decade or so. It's been eight years since Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant lost a touchdown after the ball hit the ground and came loose on the goal line. That moment seemingly changed how touchdown catches are determined in the NFL.

Since then, there are roughly two-to-five plays every week that cause NFL fans to argue about whether a receiver actually caught the ball. Chase became the latest to be added to that list Sunday. Given how often this seems to happen, he won't be the last.