The catch rule could see some big changes this offseason, particularly with the controversial “going to the ground” portion that has generated so much confusion in recent years, according to NFL.com’s Judy Battista.
As it stands now, “a player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner.” A player needs to maintain control of the football through first contact with the ground, whether they’ve made contact with a defender or not.
This news is in line with what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said at the Super Bowl in early February.
“From our standpoint, I would like to start back, instead of adding to the rule, subtracting the rule. Start over again and look at the rule fundamentally from the start,” Goodell said via NFL.com. “Because I think when you add or subtract things you can still lead to confusion. These rules are very complex — you have to look at what the unintended consequences are of making a change, which is what the competition committee, in my view, does so well and with so much thought.”
If the portion of the rule where you have to “survive the ground” changed, several famous plays from the past seven years would have different outcomes.
Jesse James’ non-touchdown against the Patriots would count.
Down, 27-24, to the Patriots in 2017’s Week 15 with 34 seconds at the Patriots’ 10-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger found Jesse James for what appeared to be a touchdown that would have given the Steelers a lead.
But after a review, officials determined James did not maintain possession and complete the process of a catch — or as we call it today, “surviving the ground” — despite crossing the goal line with the football.
The Patriots’ victory gave Pittsburgh and New England identical records at 11-3 and eventually cost the Steelers the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Under these proposed rule changes, James’ catch would now be a touchdown.
Other notable instances that would be catches if the rule was changed.
In a 2015 Divisional Round game, one of sports’ most ubiquitous memes (Dez caught it!) was born. It appeared Dez Bryant snagged a long pass that what would have at least set the Cowboys up for a go-ahead score against the Packers.
Bryant caught the ball and took three steps before going to the ground, which ended up jarring the football loose momentarily. Because of that momentary loss of possession, referees ruled the pass incomplete. The Packers got the ball back, and the Cowboys never saw it again. They were eliminated from playoff contention because of it.
The Cowboys haven’t forgotten.
And, hey, chairman of the competition committee Rich McKay says plays like Bryant’s catch should count moving forward:
Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, told me he agrees with what John Mara to @SeifertESPN: plays like the infamous Dez Bryant play should be a catch moving forward. Committee is following Roger Goodell’s directive and looking at rule from ground up. pic.twitter.com/m4VDGlJPcX— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) February 27, 2018
The earliest and most infamous instance of the dreaded catch rule was Calvin Johnson’s disallowed touchdown against the Bears.
Johnson, just as the receivers in the other catches, was deemed to not have completed the process of a catch because he let go of the football after falling to the ground.
That was the play that really got the discussion going. But we might not be having the discussion anymore ... hopefully.
All of the above should have been catches that would count under the new rules, assuming the NFL actually gets the rule change right.
Of course, that’s a big assumption.