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  • It seems the only people who don’t know what a catch is when they see it are NFL officials and the league’s overcomplicating rules-makers. Time to bring some subjectivity back into the issue and let the officials use their common sense
By Albert Breer
December 21, 2017

Let’s take the catch rule out and look at it logically—you learned what a catch is playing football at recess just like I did. And I don’t know about you, but nine-year-old me and my nine-year-old friends didn’t have many arguments over what was or wasn’t a catch.

Every now and then, you’d try to get away with trapping a ball, and hiding it with your forearms, but for the most part, it was one of those things—you knew it when you saw it. And last Sunday at about 7 Eastern time, we all knew what we saw—which was a game-winning touchdown to break the Patriots’ hex, at least until the playoffs, over Pittsburgh.

Except that in the process of administrating the rules like they’re the tax code, the NFL found a way to screw that up. So what you thought you saw on Sunday, you didn’t really see. Jesse James’ dramatic catch and lunge for the game-winner wasn’t really catch at all because he lunged for the goal line, which would be, again, the logical thing for a player to do in that spot.

Getty Images

Here’s the thing that’s nuts—the NFL is reactionary to a fault. A little bad PR commonly creates a big overcorrection. And yet, with this one, the league has steadfastly stood by a rule that badly needs changing.

Calvin Johnson caught the ball in 2010, just like Dez Bryant caught the ball in the 2014 playoffs. We all know those things to be true, just like we all know what we saw on Sunday afternoon, which was a Steelers win that didn’t turn out to be a win, because James’ touchdown wasn’t a touchdown. Somehow, James had enough control of the ball to land on his knees with it, pivot with it, and dive for the goal line with it, but not enough control for it to be ruled a catch.

And because the NFL’s goal is to make the officials’ lives easier by throwing logic overboard to make a rule black-and-white, Tony Corrente’s crew wasn’t left with much of a choice. Remember, to overturn a review, you’re working on a criminal standard, not a civil standard, and it’s fair to say that the ball didn’t “survive the ground” was beyond a reasonable doubt.

So what’s the answer? It’s to give the officials some responsibility. “Subjective” doesn’t need to be a dirty word.

Back in the ’80s, the rule was that a player had to control the ball as his feet hit the ground, and the only problem I can see with that—if you believe that guys are going to get hit in any case—is that it puts the burden on the officials to judge control. Which, if we’re being honest, shouldn’t be the tough.

In fact, I bet a nine-year-old could do it.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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