No one knows what constitutes a catch in the NFL anymore.
When the “Calvin Johnson rule” reared its ugly head again on Sunday, and the Lions’ star receiver had a touchdown catch overturned by the referee after reviewing the replay, it looked like the NFL had properly enforced the rule, even if lots of fans think the rule is dumb.
But then on Sunday night, Giants receiver Victor Cruz had a similar play on which he grabbed the ball around the 1-yard line, lunged across the goal line, and lost control of the ball after he hit the ground in the end zone. That call was ruled a touchdown on the field, and the replay assistant who reviews all scoring plays was so confident that it was a touchdown that he didn’t even buzz down to the referee to take another look.
According to Mike Pereira, the former NFL head of officiating, the official on the field got it wrong, and the replay assistant got it wrong, too: According to Pereira, there is no difference between the Cruz play and the Johnson play, and under NFL rules both should be considered incomplete passes.
“The Cruz catch was ruled complete. It should not have. Ball came loose when he hit the ground. He did not complete the process,” Pereira wrote on Twitter.
We’re seeking clarification from the league office, and it’s possible that the NFL will say Pereira is wrong on this one and the officials in the Giants-Cowboys game were right. But what we already know is that one of the following two things has to be true:
1. Victor Cruz was awarded a touchdown he didn’t deserve.
2. The NFL’s rules on what constitutes a catch are so convoluted that even the NFL’s former head of officiating doesn’t understand them.
Either way, that’s a problem.
And it’s a problem we’ve been discussing for years. We noted in 2011 that Pereira had criticized the Calvin Johnson rule (while conveniently overlooking his own responsibility for its existence), and the rule has been criticized by fans and members of the media for years. Eventually, the NFL has to find a way to define the term “catch” that is clear enough that the officials can call it consistently. Right now, no one knows what constitutes a catch.