The short touchdown pass from Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme that gave Denver the lead over the Steelers in the fourth quarter raised few eyebrows in real time.
But it should have.
The Tamme touchdown calls into question the rule that has been known by various names over the past few years. From Louis Murphy in 2009 to Calvin Johnson in 2010, NFL officials both locked-out and otherwise have struggled with the question of whether a catch is a catch when the player is going to the ground and loses possession of the ball upon impact.
The rule comes from the effort to rectify the Bert Emanuel play from the 1999 NFC title game, when the catch was made, a portion of the ball struck the ground, but Emanuel never lost possession of it. Now, the ball may hit the ground as long as it doesn’t move — and as long as whenever a player going to the ground while catching the ball maintains possession through the act of going to the ground.
That’s what apparently happened with Tamme on Sunday night. He caught the ball near the end zone, and while crossing the plane also was falling and when he landed the ball squirted out.
The replay official — who is not a replacement employee — failed to buzz the referee for a closer look. If a closer look had been taken, a tough decision may have arisen.
Yes, the player crossed into the end zone while falling down. And, yes, he performed the so-called “second act” of lunging the ball forward, even though he already was in the end zone when he did.
Still, Tamme was going to the ground and he failed to maintain possession once he hit the ground. Despite multiple discussions and examples and analyses over the years, the rule continues to require possession through the act of going to the ground, with no example for breaking the plane of the end zone while falling or otherwise performing a second act. If you’re going to the ground, you’re required (per the rule book) to maintain possession after hitting the ground. Tamme didn’t.
We’re not saying that the ruling should have been overturned. But a closer look was justified. And the thing about taking a closer look at any play is that the referee could overturn the ruling that was made on the field, even if the referee makes a mistake by doing so.