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Dez Bryant’s controversial no-catch still has us wondering what a catch is 2 years later

The NFL has been trying to define its rule for what a catch is every since Dez Bryant’s controversial play the last time the Cowboys and Packers faced off in the postseason.

Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v Green Bay Packers Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

The last trip to the postseason for the Dallas Cowboys ended with a play that lives in infamy. Even two years later, Dez Bryant said he hears about it all the time — especially with a rematch coming against the team that won as a consequence.

"When the world found out we're playing the Packers, I instantly went to my Twitter, just because," Bryant told reporters this week, via ESPN. "Everywhere I go, I still hear it 'til this day: It was a catch."

“Dez caught it” has become a meme of sorts in the last two years, and even the NFL head of officiating, Dean Blandino, joked about it when Bryant made a game-tying touchdown grab against the Philadelphia Eagles in October.

In January 2015, the Cowboys were essentially one Bryant reception away from beating the Green Bay Packers and earning a trip to the NFC Championship for the first time since January 1996.

On a fourth-down play from the 30-yard line in the final minutes of the game, Tony Romo threw a pass down the left sideline that Bryant appeared to haul in near the goal line. The reception would’ve put Dallas a yard away from erasing a 26-21 lead for the Packers with four minutes left.


Instead, officials ruled Bryant didn’t complete the process of the catch because he lost control when he hit the ground.


The play was an application of the controversial rule known as “The Calvin Johnson Rule” after the Detroit Lions wide receiver had a likely game-winning touchdown overruled in 2010.

Even Sam Shields, the Packers cornerback who was defending Bryant on that play, later said that he thought it was a catch.

Two months after the controversial call that cost Bryant, the NFL tweaked the catch rule to remove the words “football move,” but it made little impact on the actual content of the rule.

“In order to complete a catch, a receiver must clearly become a runner,” the new rule read in March 2015. “He does that by gaining control of the ball, touching both feet down and then, after the second foot is down, having the ball long enough to clearly become a runner, which is defined as the ability to ward off or protect himself from impending contact.

“If, before becoming a runner, a receiver falls to the ground in an attempt to make a catch, he must maintain control of the ball after contacting the ground.”

But the 2015 season that followed featured controversial officiating regarding receptions on a seemingly weekly basis. The rule was updated again in July, but it still didn’t change much.

Two years later, the Cowboys and Packers meet again in the postseason. But the pass to Bryant would still be ruled incomplete, and the NFL’s catch rule isn’t any closer to being understood by fans or players alike.

“I am just as lost as any fan or any player,” Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins told Monday Morning Quarterback in March. “There is no real definition. It just doesn’t make sense. You can’t quantify it.”

Dez didn’t catch it. Not by the definition of the rule. And the NFL’s tweaks over the last two seasons to clarify the rule haven’t changed that.