The NFL’s officials still can’t get the Calvin Johnson rule straight, but this time the Detroit Lions won’t be complaining.
Lions receiver Nate Burleson caught a pass in the end zone, stumbled to the ground as he crossed the end line and then dropped the ball as he hit the ground in the fourth quarter of today’s game against the 49ers. The official on the field, who was in perfect position to see the whole play, ruled it incomplete, saying Burleson didn’t complete his catch as he went to the ground.
That’s the “Calvin Johnson rule” that we all learned about last year, when Johnson caught a pass in the end zone in Week One against the Bears and dropped the ball as he went to the ground. That pass was ruled a touchdown for the Lions on the field but overturned on replay.
But even though Lions coach Jim Schwartz obviously knows the Calvin Johnson rule all too well, he decided to challenge the ruling on the pass to Burleson anyway — and this time, Schwartz got the replay review he wanted, as referee Mike Carey overturned the ruling on the field and gave Burleson a touchdown.
That’s great for the Lions, but bad for the 49ers — and bad for everyone who still wants to know what, exactly, constitutes a catch in this league.
One person who still isn’t sure is former head of NFL officiating Mike Pereira, who wrongly predicted on the FOX broadcast of the game that Carey would let the incomplete pass stand — and then said after Carey had overturned the ruling that he was glad Carey had done so. Pereira seemed to be just as confused as all the rest of us.
The bottom line is that no one in the NFL understands this rule. Not the players, not the coaches, not the fans, and not even the officials. The NFL has got to figure out a way to define what constitutes a catch, and do it in a way that actually makes sense.