Explaining the NFL's catch rule after the Steelers' controversy vs. the Patriots.

By Chris Chavez
December 18, 2017

The NFL's catch rule is back in the spotlight after a thrilling finish between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots ended in controversy.

Steelers tight end Jesse James appeared to make a catch in the closing moments of the fourth-quarter, which would've given the Steelers a three-point lead and ultimately the victory against the Patriots. Except, it was not a catch. The NFL rules state that a player going to the ground while attempting to make a catch must maintain control of the ball throughout the process before hitting the ground.

As James dove across the goal line, the ball fell to the ground. He was taken down by Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon before James could gain possession. It was ruled not a catch.

The NFL rule book states in Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1," 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. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete."

NFL senior vice president of officiating later explained the play in a narrated video. He mentions that James "loses control of the football, and the ball touches the ground prior to him regaining control. Therefore, the ruling on the field of a touchdown was changed to an incomplete pass."

The NFL has tinkered with the wording on the rules regarding what constitutes a catch over the years. In March, the MMQB examined several cases from last season that called the NFL's rule into question.

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