There were several potential turning points to this game, including the sloppy tackling that could have turned a punt from the back of the Steelers end zone into a first down on a Kordell Stewart scramble that led to the game's first touchdown. But the turning point in this game had to do with flags — not the 11 penalties the Vikings piled up, but the red flags held by the coaches.
Because the game wasn't nationally televised, there were far fewer angles for referees to see replays from, as a local affiliate in each market carried the game. That would come into play on two separate plays in the Steelers' opening drive, and it changed the complexion of the game.
The first came following a 27-yard run by Jerome Bettis. Having gained 42 yards on the previous two plays, the Steelers were feeling the need for greed, and Kordell Stewart launched a bomb for Plaxico Burress down the right sideline. That sideline was where the Vikings were located, and several players and coaches immediately responded to Burress bobbling the ball as he and Corey Chavous were locked up on the sideline. Mike Tice immediately threw his red flag for a replay on the field.
After checking the replays, the referee claimed that no angle showed the ball, so the play had to stand. Instead of facing a second-and-10 in his own territory, Stewart and the Steelers were on the Vikings 12.
Three plays later, faced with a third-and-4, Stewart called a rollout option. With his receivers covered, he dashed for the first down marker and, despite making an acrobatic move with his feet to get inside the 2-yard line, the sideline official ruled him more than a yard short at the 3-yard line. This time it was Bill Cowher's turn.
Cowher threw his red flag and, armed with the same angles as the play the refs refused to overrule, somehow the referee was able to concoct that Stewart actually had the ball "one-quarter of a yard" inside the 2 and a first down. On the next play, Bettis pounded in a 1-yard TD to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead.
If either of the calls had gone against the Steelers — and there was every reason to believe one or both should have — the drive could have stalled at midfield or the Steelers may have been forced to settle for a field goal. Either way, the Vikings would have trailed just 3-0 at worst. Instead, they were behind 7-0, and a tiring defense allowed another long drive on the subsequent Steelers possession — and the red flag and liberal interpretation of the replay rules helped create the turning point of the game.
Turning Point: Upon Further Review
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