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The Hook-and-Ladder That Almost Was

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds on what would have been the greatest NFL play of this century.

The Hook-and-Ladder That Almost Was

This NFL Sunday was one of the wildest, most dramatic and most devastating weeks of football I can ever remember. There was snow. There were comebacks. There were record-setting field goals, safeties and onside kick recoveries. The Baltimore/Minnesota finish would have been enough excitement for a few weeks on its own. 

But we as NFL fans were robbed of what could have been the wildest finish to a football game this century. The game between the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers was another snowy affair filled with slippage and some sloppy play. The Dolphins were ready to escape out of Pittsburgh with a win to keep their playoff hopes alive and well in the AFC Wild Card, but Pittsburgh had slim playoff hopes as well, and they needed a touchdown on their final drive to overcome their 34-28 deficit.

And my lord, they almost did it. 

The hook-and-ladder play is never supposed to work because you know what's coming. As long as you can force the ball to end up in the hands of a lineman and then you bring him down or get him to fumble it. As long as you can keep the play in front of you, you're going to stop the ball. But the snow played a huge role in how effective the Pittsburgh hook-and-ladder almost was yesterday. The ball went down the right sideline to Emmanuel Sanders. Then it began to reverse fields quicker than the defense could react to it because of the field conditions. Before anyone knew it, Pittsburgh's most dangerous playmaker, Antonio Brown, had the ball. All he had to do was outmaneuver some defensive lineman and other would-be tacklers in the open field (on slippery snow) and he was gone.

And he was. Brown had everyone beat and he was less than 15 yards from the end zone and eternal glory. But then the unthinkable happened: he stepped out of bounds at the 12-yard line. The play was ruled dead, and the celebration we all should have had was put on permanent hold. Sure, it was the correct call. Sure, it would have been overruled anyway when it was reviewed. And sure, the lateral that Ben Roethlisberger threw just to get it to Brown was probably a second forward pass (and thus illegal).

[GIF via Grantland]

But that's not how the game deserved to end, especially with the rest of the craziness that had ensued just minutes before and would ensue minutes after at the conclusion of the Patriots/Browns game. Almost the real thing is close, but it isn't the real thing. We were robbed of something incredibly special in Pittsburgh, and by just a few inches too. Just as quickly as we were given this gift, it was taken away from us. Who knows when the conditions will be so ripe again for another hook-and-ladder. Hopefully soon, because now that I've been so close, I need to be satisfied.

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