Yes, the provision previously known as the “Calvin Johnson rule” and now perhaps more properly known as the “Dez Bryant rule” was applied correctly (subject to a caveat mentioned below). The problem is that the rule fails to mesh with the reasonable expectations of football fans.
As applied to Bryant, the outcome flows from three different aspects of Rule 8, Section 1. Article 3 of the rule explains that a pass is completed when he secures control of the ball with his hands or arms, touches the ground with both feet or any other body part (other than his hands), and maintains control long enough to allow him to perform “any act common to the game,” which includes having the ball long enough to “pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent.”
Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 explains that when a player is going to the ground in the act of catching a pass, he must maintain control “throughout the process of contacting the ground.” Per Item 4, “If the ball touches the ground after the player secures control of it, it is a catch, provided that the player continues to maintain control.”
Read together, the language meshes with what happened on Sunday (subject to a caveat mentioned below). Bryant went to the ground in the act of catching a pass, the ball hit the ground, and he lost control of it.
But it looked like a catch to the average, reasonable football coach, player, fan, etc. That’s the real issue; it looked like a catch, and then we were told it wasn’t a catch. The challenge for the NFL as to this and every other rule becomes ensuring that the rules mesh with the commonsensical expectations of folks playing, coaching, and/or watching the game.
A separate issue that hasn’t gotten much attention is whether indisputable visual evidence existed to support overturning every aspect of the ruling on the field. Yes, it’s clear the ball struck the ground. But is it indisputable that Bryant failed to complete the act by making a so-called “football move,” especially since it appeared Bryant was reaching forward with the ball as he was going to the ground.
In past cases, that football move (previously dubbed by former NFL V.P. of officiating Mike Pereira as a “second act“) is enough to complete the catch. In the last game of Pereira’s stint as V.P. of officiating, the “second act” exception gave the Saints a key two-point conversion in Super Bowl XLIV, as receiver Lance Moore caught a pass while going to the ground, reached the ball across the plane, hit the ground, and lost possession.
If the term “second act” is synonymous with “football move,” the ultimate question as to the Dez Bryant player becomes whether there was indisputable visual evidence that he didn’t commit a football move or second act. If the visual evidence was not indisputable, the ruling on the field should have been confirmed.