Tuesday’s trade deadline kept us from getting to the one glaring moment about which Chargers fans were most concerned during the latter moments of Monday night’s loss to the Broncos.
The play in question — a touchdown reception by Brandon Stokley — drew a challenge flag because it appeared that Stokley, who landed with the ball outside the end zone, had been touched by Chargers defensive back Antonio Cromartie before rolling across the white line.
Replays seemed to suggest that Stokley might have caught the ball while partially in the end zone, but also while falling down.
Said referree Scott Green at the time: “After reviewing the play, the ruling on the field is confirmed. The receiver had possession of the ball with two feet down in the end zone. The play is over at that point.”
But is the play over at that point, if the receiver is going to the ground while making the catch?
It isn’t, the league office has advised us. Said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello by e-mail on Tuesday, after communicating with V.P. of officiating Mike Pereira: “It isn’t over until he holds onto the ball but he gets the touchdown if he establishes control in the end zone.”
So if Stokley had lost possession of the ball when he landed, the proper ruling would have been that the pass was incomplete — even if he had possession of the ball and two feet down in the end zone.
And that discrepancy bothers us. If a player who’s going to the ground doesn’t complete the catch until he maintains possession after coming to rest, should he be given a touchdown if he doesn’t come to rest beyond the front of the end zone?
The better rule would be to treat the catch as being made where the player lands, not where he happened to be visiting while trying to secure the ball.
The other thing that bothers us about this case is that Green seemed to ignore the ruling on the field. The official signaled touchdown only after Stokley rolled into the end zone. Thus, the official didn’t believe that Stokley had secured possession of the ball with two feet down and the ball across the front of the goal line.
That’s an important point because, to overturn the official’s interpretation of what had occurred, Green would have had to see indisputable (i.e., 50 guys in a bar would agree) visual evidence that the ball was breaking the plane when Stokley had possession of it, with two feet down.
Bottom line? The Competition Committee has some work to do in the offseason, both as to the rule regarding catches made while going to the ground, and as to this odd glitch in the rules where a touchdown can be scored even if the receiver who was falling down finally completes the catch on the wrong side of the goal line.