With the Lions beating the Vikings by 10 on Sunday, the decision to overturn a first half touchdown reception from Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson didn’t alter the outcome of the game. But the rule, which is known by some as the “Calvin Johnson Rule” for an application that robbed the Lions of a Week One victory three years ago, continues to create confusion and controversy.
In this specific case, the rule was applied correctly.
A catch happens as the result of a three-step process. Under part (a) of the rule, the receiver secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground. Under part (b), he touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands. Then, after part (a) and (b) have been completed, part (c) comes into play. Under part (c), the catch is a completion if the player maintains control of the ball long enough to enable him to perform “any act common to the game (i.e., maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.).”
In this case, Johnson completed part (c) without first completing part (b). Specifically, Johnson committed an act common to the game — lunging forward across the goal line — before getting his second foot down.
That’s what allowed the play to be reversed, and the reversal was the right call. The question of whether a player has had the ball long enough to perform an act common to the game is necessarily subjective, making it virtually impossible to reverse the call on the field. The question of whether Johnson got both feet down before making the act common to the game is far less subjective, and subject to the high standard that can trigger a reversal.
In this case, the video shows that Johnson got one foot down before lunging into the end zone, crossing the plane, hitting the ground, and losing possession.
While the Calvin Johnson Rule may continue to create plenty of confusion in the future, this time the NFL got it right.