Before that epic finish to Saturday night’s game between the Packers and Cardinals, Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald made a catch that, under the NFL’s formulation of what is and isn’t a catch, appeared to be not a catch. Surprisingly, the replay process resulted in a decision that the ruling on the field was correct, and that Fitzgerald had caught it.
In the weekly officiating video distributed by the NFL, league V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino explained that there was not enough evidence to overturn the ruling on the field that Fitzgerald, who went to the ground and lost possession upon landing, had become a runner.
“He ruled that the player had the ball long enough to be a runner, and if it’s not clear and obvious that he was not a runner, then the call on the field must stand,” Blandino said, emphasizing that Fitzgerald turned his body to move up the field before landing on the ground. “This is close. It’s questionable as to whether he did become a runner. And that’s the key. Again, the basic premise of replay is that the call on field is presumed correct unless we have indisputable evidence that it’s incorrect. This was not indisputable, not definitive. There is a subjective element to this rule. . . . It was questionable. That’s why the call on the field stood.”
It’s a reasonable explanation. And it’s arguably the same explanation that should have been provided a year ago, when Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant caught the ball in the air, came down, fell toward the ground, and turned his body in a lunge to the goal line, with the football cradled in his forearm.
In that case, the ruling on the field — from the official who was right there — was that Dez had become a runner. The same subjectivity that allowed Fitzgerald’s catch to stand should have applied to Bryant; it was not indisputable that Bryant hadn’t become a runner, so the ruling from the official who made the call of a catch should have been enforced.
Unless and until the catch rule changes, the NFL handled the rule the right way in the Green Bay-Arizona game. Whether a receiver had the ball long enough to become a runner requires subjective interpretation that should not be overturned unless clearly wrong. While that does nothing more than a year later for Dez Bryant and the Cowboys, it gives the NFL a more effective way to apply the rule that’s currently on the books.