NFL tells officials to no longer employ paper as tool to measure first down

The NFL has instructed its officials to no longer employ paper as a tool during the process of measuring a first down, days after referee Gene Steratore stirred controversy by using an index card during the Dallas Cowboys' 20-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

Steratore placed the card between the tip of the football and the end of the first-down marker before signaling that the Cowboys had converted a key fourth down on their game-winning drive Sunday. Steratore later told a pool reporter that he used the card only to "reaffirm" the decision he already had made, and an NFL spokesman said he violated no NFL rules by doing so.

But Raiders coach Jack Del Rio was among those angered by the unusual move, and NFL senior vice president Al Riveron said Thursday that he already has advised referees not to use the card again.

"Geno made the decision strictly, strictly by visual affirmation that the ball had made the line to gain," Riveron said. Riveron also apologized to anyone who interpreted Steratore's smirk after using the card as a sign of disrespect.

"At no time was Geno being disrespectful to Coach Del Rio, to the Oakland Raiders or to anyone," Riveron said. "If that's the way it was taken, then I need to apologize because at no time do any of our officials show any kind of disrespect, and that's the last thing we want anyone to think."

Meanwhile, Riveron said the NFL will follow its annual offseason custom of reviewing its controversial catch rule. Most recently, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James had an apparent go-ahead touchdown reversed when replays showed he had not maintained control of the ball throughout the process of going to the ground and lunging over the goal line.

The Steelers ultimately lost to the New England Patriots 27-24 in a key game for determining AFC playoff seeding. Previous studies of the catch rule have not spurred any change "for numerous reasons," Riveron said.

"We're constantly taking suggestions," he added. "We're constantly taking advice. We'll put some videos together and some film and we'll look at it. Like everything that's important to our players, fans, to the media and the coaches, we'll look at it again."