Controversy surrounding the NFL’s catch rule truly came to a breaking point in the Eagles Super Bowl LII victory. In the seasons since Dez Bryant’s infamous “dropped” pass in the divisional game against Green Bay in 2014, more and more critical contests are becoming victims of debatable catch calls.
Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared on Fox Sports’ ‘The Herd with Colin Cowherd’ prior to the Super Bowl, expressing “concern” over the catch rule. His concerns were both justified and magnified in Minneapolis, with two Philly touchdown receptions drawing criticism from viewers and the NFL community.
With the NFL offseason officially underway, removing the growing ambiguity and discrepancies in reception rulings must become a top league priority. With trust in officiating never fully recovered from the replacement ref fiasco of 2012, which produced the Seahawks “Fail Mary”, public outcry will only continue to amplify if the catch rule is not remedied.
According to the 2017 NFL Rulebook, “A player who makes a catch may advance the ball. A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:
a. secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
b. touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
c. maintains control of the ball after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, until he has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps (see 3-2-7-Item 2).
Note: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.
If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any part of his body to the ground, it is not a catch.”
The wording of the rule seems fairly definitive. Yet in action, very similar plays like the Jesse James touchdown reception in the regular season against the Patriots (reversed) and the Zach Ertz touchdown reception in the Super Bowl (upheld), yield inconsistent results. Corey Clement bobbled the ball in the end zone with one foot out of bounds in the third quarter of the Super Bowl, but was still ultimately credited with a touchdown for Philly, calling into question what constitutes control of the ball.
Until the NFL produces reliable reviews, the catch rule will be fodder for disgruntled fan bases for the foreseeable future. Here’s to hoping the Ravens don’t end up on the wrong side of a ruling any time soon.