Calvin Johnson’s apparent game-winning touchdown catch in the Lions’ Week One game against the Bears last season was overturned by a controversial replay review, and nearly a year later the NFL is still explaining why it stands by that ruling.
In an instructional video prepared for NFL players and now available to fans online, the league says that it has added language to the official rules to clarify what constitues a catch and what constitutes an incompletion — but that clarification doesn’t change the ruling on the Calvin Johnson play.
“If a player is going to the ground in the process of making a catch, he must maintain control throughout the entire process of contacting the ground,” the narrator of the video says. “If the player does not maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, the pass is incomplete.”
With that, the Johnson non-touchdown is shown, with the word “Incomplete” flashing on the screen.
And, of course, the bulk of the video deals with rules aimed at player safety, including this year’s increased emphasis on protecting defenseless players, and on preventing players from launching head-first into their opponents.
However, there is one surprise: At one point in the video, the narrator explains which types of hits are allowed on quarterbacks by saying, “glancing or incidental contact will not be a foul.” With that, video is shown of Trent Cole touching the back of Peyton Manning’s helmet during last year’s Colts-Eagles game. The word “legal” flashes on the screen when that play is shown.
That’s a surprise because Cole was flagged for a personal foul on that play, and afterward NFL V.P. of officiating Carl Johnson defended the call. This year, the NFL says, that won’t be a penalty. We’ll see when the season starts if referees can really resist the temptation to protect star quarterbacks.