NFL: A receiver going to the ground can have control, take four steps, it’s still not a catch

Getty Images

Maybe some day the NFL will have a catch rule that the fans can understand. But that day has not yet come.

The most recent example of that came in last week’s Seahawks-Cardinals game, when Cardinals running back Andre Ellington grabbed a pass, took multiple steps, went to the ground and dropped the ball. On the field, that was ruled a catch and a fumble.

But on instant replay, the ruling was reversed to an incomplete pass. In the league’s weekly officiating video, NFL V.P. of Officiating Al Riveron explained why he reversed it, and said it doesn’t matter how many steps a receiver takes with control of the ball: If he’s going to the ground while he’s taking all those steps, he needs to maintain control when he hits the ground.

“We see the receiver control the football and then immediately, just prior to him turning, he starts to go to the ground,” Riveron said. “Control, he’s now going to the ground, two, three, maybe even four feet down. But he’s going to the ground. If in the process of completing the catch, the receiver is going to the ground, whether he’s going to the ground on his own or whether he’s touched by another player, he must maintain control of the football upon his initial contact with the ground. And as we see here, the minute he hits the ground the ball comes loose. Therefore it’s an incomplete pass.”

That won’t satisfy everyone. But it’s the answer the NFL is sticking to.

113 responses to “NFL: A receiver going to the ground can have control, take four steps, it’s still not a catch

  1. Only the NFL could cause confusion over what something as simple as a catch is. Stop the madness. And yeah, Dez caught the ball.

  2. This rule seems to be written by lawyers and federal regulators due the convoluted nature.

    I know we all give the refs a lot of flack over these rules but this is all the NFL’s fault.

  3. From pretty much everything we have seen, the NFL’s rules and their interpretation have become even more confused under Riveron. The league seems to get very little right these days.

  4. Ridiculous. How about a catch is “instant ball is controlled in the hand(s) of the receiver”. If not, it’s incomplete. If it comes out at any other time it’s a fumble unless he was down by contact”.

    All replay would need to look at is whether the ball was ever secure in one or both hands. If it was, even for an instant. It’s a catch. Let’s get with the program folks.

  5. Riddle me this. A receiver catches the ball at the goal line and as he goes to the ground he sticks the ball across the line with one hand and immediately loses control. Touchdown right? But if he extended his hand in the field of play and loses control it’s incomplete?

    Makes my brain hurt….

  6. Ah, the gift that keeps on giving. As a Lions fan I was absolutely crazy that they overturned the Calvin Johnson TD. But my reward is that till the end of time…or the NFL regains consciousness, I get to to shake my head and say “Nope, not a catch!”
    We can make this simple if common sense prevails.
    1 – Is the receiver in possession of the ball? Yes?
    2 – are 2 foot feet down (or equivalent)? Yes?
    It’s a catch

  7. I don’t think there is a bigger Arizona Cardinals fan than me and that was clearly a fumble…. The NFL has become as close to unwatchable as Curling. That is sad to say but the truth…

  8. The NFL has always been very consistent with calls of this nature. As long as I’ve been watching, I can make the same call, every time. The only complainers are single-minded fantasy leaguers who want rules altered to fit their needs.

  9. That was clearly a fumble. The NFL is obviously trying to establish consistency in it’s rulings on plays like this and others similar to this. It is a difficult thing to do. In my opinion they are doing a good job of it.

  10. “Maybe some day the NFL will have a catch rule that the fans can understand. But that day has not yet come.”

    Actually that rule existed for the entire history of football until Goodell and his cronies got their corrupt hands on the game.

    Hand(s) on ball, take 2 steps or make a football move and its a catch. It was easy, simple, and clear in virtually every case whether it was a catch or not.

    Ever since the league office took over central control of replay review, the corruption has been massive and clearly evident. If the owners extend Goodell they will find fans leaving the game in ever increasing numbers.

  11. Stuff like this, more than anthem protests, dubious player suspensions or crappy Thursday night games, is what’s killing my interest in the NFL.

  12. They’re sticking to that answer until they don’t. The Competition Committee needs to do its job and get this fixed. Just as the ground can’t cause a fumble, it shouldn’t result in an incomplete pass when the receiver has taken multiple steps.

  13. Honestly, why can’t they just adopt the rules of ‘street/backyard footbal’ – ball in arms, controlled, two feet down (or knee/butt) in bounds. Period. The end. Just about every kid in the country grows up with these rules.

  14. The whole replay command center is just micromanaging calls too much. Just call it on the field the way it looks rather than slowing it 100x and rotating through a dozen camera angles.

  15. There’s always gonna be some gray area, but 4 steps AFTER control is one too many for incomplete. It should be 2 – with that 3rd foot demonstrating on the ground as runner. Ok to have that 3rd foot as that small gray area (was it a toe, was really a foot-step etc) but not a 4th step.

  16. So by that logic if someone is stumbling, they could run the entire length of the field with control of the ball, through the endzone, trip over a cameraman, and only then fall and drop the ball and it’s an incomplete pass? Makes perfect sense…

  17. The concept is easy: There is momentum at the time of the catch, until the receiver has reverses or stops the momentum to demonstrate he controls his body and not gravity, he has not established control. He must control the ball and his body after the time he possesses the ball. I can’t believe how many people can’t get this. It is so obvious.

  18. Riveron must go.. The guy is a moron and an example of exactly why NFL officiating doesn’t mesh with common sense. Until the league figures out how to align the call with the expectation of the consumer(the fan), the league will continue to frustrate paying customers into taking their money elsewhere.

  19. it makes sense because it isn’t taking four steps and then falling down. It is taking steps while in the process of falling. Players often take steps while falling to the ground in an attempt to stay in their feet. The reality is, they are in the process of falling.

    So you need to maintain control when you hit the ground if you are in the process of falling while making a catch.

    Doesn’t seem that complicated.

  20. NFL is now over officiated and plays over worked. Is this about more advertising time during reviews???

    I’d like to go back in time, when games were played and officiated inside the goal lines and side lines.

    I’d even take my team losing a key game, to avoid the ridiculous level now reached under ‘what is a catch’ and other similar time wasting situations.

    Let the refs decide… and PLAY ON.

    But, since that’s not going to happen… I’m VERY THANKFUL…. for my DVR… to speed through the silly minutia. How vitally refreshing.

  21. Just reat this and couldn’t believe it. Then I read the NFL rule on completing a catch. If they did not determine that he was upright long enough to become a runner, but instead that he was going to the ground the entire time he was taking those steps, then this would be consistent with how the rule is written.

    Whether the rule is fair as written is a completely different argument.

  22. Receiver catches the ball, runs 44 yards with it and falls down and the ball comes out. That’s not a catch?

    The NFL is out of its collective minds with this ridiculousness.

  23. he was a terrible game official and he is showing why now. Al Riveron is a blackeye for the NFL. Whatever happened to the ’10 guys sitting in a bar’ example?
    The NFL hires people and then they demonstrate how unqualified they are to be in the league. Wonder if this sort of stuff is another reason why people quit watching?
    its like they are making it up as they go along

  24. Its the officials job to keep the score close and help the favored team as needed. Football be damned if it gets in the way.

  25. The game is turning into a complete joke. Within 10 years the NFL will be lucky to be around at this rate.

  26. pauldeba says:
    November 18, 2017 at 10:42 am
    The concept is easy: There is momentum at the time of the catch, until the receiver has reverses or stops the momentum to demonstrate he controls his body and not gravity, he has not established control. He must control the ball and his body after the time he possesses the ball. I can’t believe how many people can’t get this. It is so obvious.

    I agree, and you explained it better than Riveron, but evidently this is way too complex for some.On the topic of why this rules is written this way, I suspect a Polianesque* issue came up where a receiver caught a ball and going to the ground lost control and call was a fumble.

    *A system that allows a GM to force a rules change because his team lost the previous year.

  27. Here’s an idea: A catch is a catch so long as a receiver has the ball in his hands and 2 feet / 1 knee down in bounds. Doesn’t matter what happenes an instant after it. Find one frame of the video where that’s the case and it’s clear cut. No questions asked.

  28. The new instant replay rules are garbage and only exist to manipulate betting lines and over/unders. I could almost accept this, knowing the game has always been manipulated by the gambling interests that own the teams, except for the fact that the lengthy replay reviews after each score kill the momentum and make the games less fun to watch. Ratings will continue to shrink as the game gets further and further from the game we all play in our backyards, until the CTE lawyers finally kill the game for good.

  29. Instead, they should have an “Unwatchable Committee”. I don’t like the kneeling, but this 4 step incompletion rule is just one more example why the NFL is intent on going belly up. Let’s play hockey!

  30. Two thoughts here: 1) With Riveron’s explanation of the rule and how it was applied, I now understand many of the calls that made no sense. 2) It’s a stupid rule! It makes more sense to be: Control of the ball, and two feet down. If you want to add in a “football move”, that’s okay too.

  31. pauldeba says:
    November 18, 2017 at 10:42 am

    The concept is easy: There is momentum at the time of the catch, until the receiver has reverses or stops the momentum to demonstrate he controls his body and not gravity, he has not established control. He must control the ball and his body after the time he possesses the ball. I can’t believe how many people can’t get this. It is so obvious.
    ——————————

    Most people don’t get it because it doesn’t make sense. Seems like taking 3 or 4 steps shows control, whether you are going to the ground or not.

  32. They have completely abandoned the purpose of that provision. It was originally put in place to prevent a play where a diving receiver who grabs the ball and loses it upon landing (initial contact with the ground) from being ruled a catch/fumble. Previously, the catch was complete when controlled with 2 feet (1 knee, etc.) down in bounds so the moment the receiver landed the catch was complete and if he was untouched and the ball came out, it was a fumble. Somehow, the officials and current league leadership have, over time, interpreted it as they ruled here. The steps somehow do not constitute initial contact with the ground. That is wrong based on when the rule was put in place but now it just seems accepted. It was never intended this way and the game is now worse because of how it is applied.

  33. Talk about confusing rules. If a running back go a lateral or a backward pitch and then took 4 steps and hit the ground and dropped the ball, it would not be a fumble as the ground cannot cause a fumble. If the same running back or receiver was 1 foot in front of the QB and caught the ball and was stumbling forward 4 steps and hit the ground and the ball came out it would be an incomplete pass. You gotta be kidding me!

    Finally, the original ruling stating that it was a fumble was wrong as ground contact cannot cause a fumble.

  34. It’s a simple rule.
    It’s not ambiguous. It’s very black and white.
    You may not agree with it, Hell, I don’t even agree with it.
    But it’s not as difficult as everybody makes it seem.

  35. Some of you said this is the big problem with the NFL, and not the kneelers. I disagree. The kneelers are the central issue (with CTE research riding in the sidecar), and all the flags and ticky tacky rules are just a peripheral issue that, while annoying, isn’t actually driving people away from the sport.

  36. Refs can’t officiate games anymore. And it is a huge problem with fans.The NFL officials don’t know what a catch is, or what a fumble is, if you are running with the ball the ground can’t cause a fumble. If it is the same things on a pass play it is incomplete catch, nonsense.Calls on the field are so inconsistent and just wrong even after replay you question the integrity of the game itself. When the NFL started changing rules to cover up bad calls that’s when the problems started. Brady fumbled. The NFL should have said hey we blew it. No they come up with a tuck rule. Calvin Johnson caught the ball in the end zone. No the NFL says he didn’t complete the catch. Ever since these guys don’t know what a catch is. Sorry those are basics to the game.If every time basic of the game needs interpretation by the refs the league is in trouble.

  37. And in real catch news….Virginia receiver just caught a ball took 2 steps and fumbled hitting the ground in the endzone end of the first half against Miami…..and they correctly overturned an original incomplete call to a TD. Come on NFL….take some notes.

  38. Sports is entertainment.
    We as the paying customer don’t like this type of ruling, it makes the game less fun to watch.

    The NFL risks losing marketshare in dribs and drabs here and there over time as it does one thing after another we don’t like.

  39. “it doesn’t matter how many steps a receiver takes with control of the ball: If he’s going to the ground while he’s taking all those steps, he needs to maintain control when he hits the ground.”

    So if a player catches a short pass on the 1 yard line and runs 90 yards with it and then trips on his own feet and loses the ball when he hits the ground it is an incomplete catch?

    lol

  40. I didn’t see this one, but the Dez Bryant one WAS NOT A CATCH. He let the ball hit the ground and then let it leave his hands. NO CATCH. That has NEVER been a catch, and it should NEVER be a catch.

  41. To me, going to the ground occurs when a guy goes up to catch a ball, and falls to the ground, not catching a ball and running with it.

  42. fmc651 says:
    November 18, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    When the NFL started changing rules to cover up bad calls that’s when the problems started. Brady fumbled. The NFL should have said hey we blew it. No they come up with a tuck rule.
    ————————-

    The tuck rule already existed, and the Patriots themselves were on the wrong end of it earlier that same season. Funny how they just went about their business, and didn’t spend the next 16+ years, so far, crying about it.

  43. Between this and the constant micro-analysis of touchdown calls (as with Mariota’s TD on Thursday night) the game is heading into very deep waters.

  44. biglouie15 says:
    November 18, 2017 at 12:22 pm
    Talk about confusing rules. If a running back go a lateral or a backward pitch and then took 4 steps and hit the ground and dropped the ball, it would not be a fumble as the ground cannot cause a fumble. If the same running back or receiver was 1 foot in front of the QB and caught the ball and was stumbling forward 4 steps and hit the ground and the ball came out it would be an incomplete pass. You gotta be kidding me!
    ———————————
    On a lateral, if the ball comes out for ANY reason, its a fumble because it was not a forward pass.

  45. rho1953 says:
    November 18, 2017 at 2:44 pm
    I didn’t see this one, but the Dez Bryant one WAS NOT A CATCH. He let the ball hit the ground and then let it leave his hands. NO CATCH. That has NEVER been a catch, and it should NEVER be a catch.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    No. What you are describing is called a fumble. Dez caught the ball, had 2 feet down, stumbled forward several steps, lunged for the end zone and the ball touched the ground and came out on the lunge and then he recovered it himself. At worst it should have been down by contact wherever the ball was at that point. At best it would have been Dallas ball where he recovered it (not sure if he was in the end zone or touched OB by then).

  46. The whole problem stems from the NFL misinterpreting the “going to the ground” part of the catch rule. Catching a ball when “going to the ground” means the receiver dives and catches the ball while stretched out in the air– he must control the ball when he hits the ground. It doesn’t mean a receiver who catches a ball, gets 2 feet down, and stumbles or falls to the ground. In that case, the catch is complete when the receiver possesses the ball and gets 2 feet down. If he loses the ball when he hits the ground, without contact, it’s a fumble. If he loses the ball when he hits the ground, with contact, it’s down by contact.

  47. This is called the NFL park ave “marketing rule”, saw this happen in reverse at FedEx field when a Redskin RB fumbled, which if upheld would have made the path clear for MN to blow out the game – Park Ave reversed it, Surprise! And the Skins scored ….zzzz bs meter @ 100

  48. dannyabramowitz says:
    November 18, 2017 at 7:02 pm
    The whole problem stems from the NFL misinterpreting the “going to the ground” part of the catch rule. Catching a ball when “going to the ground” means the receiver dives and catches the ball while stretched out in the air…

    ———-

    Read the rule:

    “Item 1. Player Going to the Ground. A player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner.”

  49. Mr. Riveron, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

  50. htown1035 says:
    November 18, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    Sounds more like the NFL is trying to play CYA for all possible circumstances.

    ———————————

    That’s how people writing the rules are SUPPOSED to work.

  51. I have never been a conspiracy theorist type of guy but I can’t help but notice how they changed these replay rules that make it easy for somebody in charge of the whole league to decide games and shape the seasons and competition. Do you think it has anything to do with ratings?

    Now there’s some anonymous group in New York that makes all the instant replay decisions in some dark room that we can’t even see or have any idea who it is? Accountability anyone? That seems sketchy as hell and at the very least is much more susceptible to fixing and Corruption then a more transparent process where the refs right there in front of us are making the decisions.

    As for the catch/fumble, as most older football watchers know the rule was always one foot in with possesion for college, two feet in with possesion for pros. Very simple to understand. The only question we used to have was whether he was juggling the ball or not but instant replay solved that.

    If you have possession and 2 feet in it’s a catch and possession at that moment. Anything that happens afterwards would be something else(fumble).

    When did the rule change? When did it become the nonsense it is today?

    And again, if you want us to believe it is not crooked why is one guy back in New York that we can’t even see and hold responsible making the calls on instant replay challenges? we don’t even know who it is we just wait for the guy behind the curtain to tell us who’s going to win the game.

    and there I go sounding like a crazy conspiracy theorist…I blame the nfl.

  52. wildwest74 says:
    November 18, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Read the rule:
    “Item 1. Player Going to the Ground. A player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner.”
    ————————-

    I’d say 4 steps demonstrates running.

    I hate all of these different catch rules for different parts of the field.

  53. Dez did NOT catch the ball. The NFL came out and quoted the rules as to why it wasn’t a catch: He didn’t control it with 2 feet down before it hit the ground.

  54. Two feet on the ground with ball in hand secured. That’s the catch rule that’s always been applied until now. When did the NFL lose sight of this rule?

  55. You also can’t hit the QB in any way shape or form. Honestly, QB’s may as well just sit back there and get hit every play because you’ll get a 15 yard penalty every time. Yesterday in the Rams-Vikings game, there were 2 horrible roughing calls: one on anthony barr and one on aaron donald.

  56. If the ground cannot cause a fumble, then why should the ground cause an incomplete pass? Once the receiver has control of the ball, it should be a catch, period.

  57. harrisonhits2,
    “or make a football move”….this is not part of the concept of player possess. It is simply a preference. A touchdown can be made without any running. Advancing the ball, or movement of any kind, is not required for possession. If it were, the player who simply falls on a loose ball DOES NOT have possession.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!