An easy solution to the catch rule


After the 1999 NFC title game, when former Buccaneers receiver Bert Emmanuel caught a pass in crunch time but the ball touched the ground while in his possession and the catch was ruled not a catch, the NFL modified the rule to allow the ball to touch the ground and still be a catch.

Since then, no one really knows what a catch is and isn’t.

The rule that allows the ball to touch the ground as long as the receiver maintains possession through the act of going to the ground unless before going to the ground the receiver gets two feet on the ground and either performs an act common to the game or has the time to perform an act common to the game (yep, that’s the rule) understandably has confused players, coaches, media, fans, and (most importantly) officials ever since.  Years before what appeared to be a catch from Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant in the 2014 divisional round against the Packers was deemed not to be a catch, the NFL couldn’t quite figure out how to apply the rule, with former V.P. of officiating Mike Pereira admitting that he had confused the officials in an effort to clarify the rule.

“I mean, this has gotten to be so convoluted, this whole act of catching a pass when you’re going to the ground, that it’s very difficult for people to grasp what is a catch and what isn’t a catch,” Pereira said in 2009.

A modification to the rules has been needed for years, but the league has resisted changing the provision.  Even after the highest-stakes application of the rule resulted in an outcome that defied the reasonable expectations of most who believed they were seeing a catch, the league has declined to adjust the rule to encompass within the definition of a catch anything that looks like a catch.

The NFL says it’s too difficult to change the language of the rule.  The ultimately challenge is to find a way to make it all very simple.  On Friday morning, during the five minutes or so that I actually prepare for a three-hour radio show (and it shows), the light bulb flickered.

1.  If a player catches a pass, gets two feet (or one shin/knee) down, and then goes to the ground, he must secure possession through the act of going to the ground.  If the ball touches the ground at any time in the process, the pass is incomplete.

2.  If a player catches a passes, gets two feet down and takes a third step, the catch is complete.  If he loses possession while going to the ground without being touched by an opponent while falling, it’s a fumble.  If touched by an opponent in the act of going to the ground, the play is over when the player hits the ground, regardless of whether he loses possession.

That’s it.  Simple.  Clean.  Easy to understand.

The only downside is that, by removing the ability of a player who catches a pass and gets two feet (or one shin/knee) down to compete the reception even if the ball touches the ground and doesn’t move, passes deemed to be complete under the Bert Emmanuel rule will once again be incomplete.  But that’s an acceptable trade off for greater certainty — especially since the notion that a football can be caught despite touching the ground turns the concept of catching a football on its head.

Share your thoughts below, especially if you think you have an even better idea.

163 responses to “An easy solution to the catch rule

  1. There is no way it is possible to write this rule that will satisfy 100% of the people 100% of the time. Arguments about catches are inevitable in this day and age of super slow-mo instant replay from 8 angles.

  2. Use the 3 guys in a bar interpretation.

    If 3 guys would reasonably believe he caught the ball, took three steps and lunged for the goal line, then it’s a catch.

  3. Still mulling over whether I agree or not. But must say I’m impressed that a solution to something is being offered. Instead of just sitting back and declaring how the league got something wrong.

  4. This is when we need Madden to explain things. he normally dumbs it down and makes it very simple.

    If it touchs the ground no catch.

    If the ball comes out its a fumble. ( not a tuck rule )

  5. I like it. I have thought for some time of a similar solution to fumbles – just hang on to the damned ball.

  6. It’s simple to understand that if the player acts in a way that causes the football to move the same as his hands (intentionally) in an act that looks like possession, it should be complete as long as he’s in bounds.

    If he (and he alone) affects the movement of the ball, he has possession. Gravity, the ground, or an opponent can not be moving the ball.

  7. You make too much sense. It’ll never happen. The league likes the rule ambiguous so it can manipulate outcomes

  8. The current rules are not difficult. Anyone who knows the rules and can be objective can easily determine was is and is not a catch. Dez’s attempt was clearly not a catch. It was close, but the replay process did its job and got it right.

  9. Pigs are a flyin’ and hell must be freezing over. Inexplicably and incredibly, I find myself agreeing with Florio. Unbelievable. Is it April 1 yet?

  10. That is the “backyard rules” we all grew up with. Who the heck ever told their neighbor they “didnt complete the process.” If it hit the ground it was incomplete, and if you had the ball and then lost it before being down it was a fumble. Sometimes I think the NFL wants to brand itself as a progressive, sophisticated, elite thing, when in reality, its just football.

  11. Maybe it needs to be really simple. Possession and 2 feet down is a catch. Always.

    1. If a DB hits him and ball pops loose, now its a loose ball.

    2. If he catches it and is untouched going to the ground, and the ground knocks it loose, it’s a fumble.

    3. If he is catches it, and is down by contact, he’s down.

    That’s simple. Possession and 2 feet down. No different than a RB who has the ball and gets tackled.

  12. Mike, that sounds far too logical for the NFL to accept it! Personally I like the idea…..

  13. Not bad. It still might be tough to judge when a player catches the ball while running and gets clocked and drops the ball. You know when they are running with it but do not have really secure possession.

  14. “and takes a third step”

    There will be controversy here. What is a step? Foot fully up and down? Did he drag his foot on that step or did he take a step?

    Otherwise I like it. I’m fine with the Emmanuel tradeoff.

  15. Oh, there still is the issue of what is a catch. If a guy is putting the ball away while taking a third step and loses control is it a fumble? I see a lot of looking at when that third step happens vs when he loses control.

  16. Nah. That would make the rule simple and easy to understand. We can’t possibly have that in today’s NFL with it’s ever-expanding rule book that reads like a Cantonese DMV manual.

  17. I think Florio presents a concise, easy to understand rule that makes sense. As currently drafted, it’s too convoluted.

  18. Even simpler: stop inventing reasons to change a call. We can worry about the finer details when fewer good catches are called incomplete than the other way around.

  19. Still leaves some grey area at the end zone IMO. If he catches at the 1 yard line with both feet on the ground and reaches for the end zone, breaks the plane and gets knocked out of his hands while getting hit.

    The football move stipulation has some merit. In the above example your ruling would be an incomplete pass. However, it would fail the eyeball test of being a catch.

  20. Personally, I like the definition in the dictionary.

    “To get and hold (something that has been in motion) in a hand, the hands”

    As it pertains to football, I’d add the wording ‘in bounds’.

    So, once the ball is ‘caught’ and player deemed in bounds. Then the catch is complete and whatever happens thereafter is not part of the decision making process when trying to determine if a pass is complete or incomplete.

    In bounds being 2 feet or 1 knee or 1 shin etc

    I think this would leave room for the ref to use a common sense approach on a close call

  21. Possession, 2 feet, knee, butt, elbow, back all touch then the ball comes out…its a catch.

    If you have possession and 6 body parts touch the ground before the ball comes out, it’s a catch.

    It’s not that hard

  22. With the type of very good athletes and the circus
    moves and such?? In the early years of the game the ball was ruled caught.
    Television and replay changed it all.

  23. It’s not that difficult if you just watch the play. It’s like the tuck play. Dez didn’t catch it, Brady fumbled. Simple.

  24. They have so many rule changes that the refs are having to remember all the current rules along with the 40 new rules each year. Its simple, 2 feet, a shin or knee down and its a catch. If the player gets 2 feet down and fumbles, its a fumble. Not a Dallas fan but Dez looked to have caught that pass. He has 2 feet down, fell and rolled over with the ball fumbled into the air and back in his hands. But with the so many rule changes it is starting to mess up the game.

  25. Your rule is great, if this is what it states:

    1. A catch is complete once a player
    a. establishes possession (no movement of ball)
    b. gets two feet (or any other body part that is not the soles of the feet or the palms of the hands, i.e. shins, forearm, etc) down plus a football move or a third step

    2. If the ball touches the ground before any both 1a and 1b are complete, it’s incomplete. Period.

    If that’s the rule change, then I think everyone will agree with you. It’s simple and effective.

  26. It was so easy. Dez caught the ball, then fumbled in the endzone–and he recovered the ball. I thought that was the issue being reviewed.

  27. I caught a zillion passes in various touch/tackle leagues in my life.

    The rule was always show me the ball.

    But if one catches the ball, then is diving for more yardage as Dez was, he IS showing the ref the ball and is now trying for more yards.

    The Ref needs to be able to call a catch a catch before that whole go to the ground thing like Calvin’s situation.

    That is the old rule in a nutshell but it requires judgement and they want to make a rule universal with no judgement.

    Judgement will lead to mistakes and the rule in place now leads to what sure seems like completed catches being ruled incomplete.

    I’ll take the judgement call because we almost always know what a catch is when we see it…

  28. Simple solution….ball can’t touch the ground before two points of possession is made (one foot plus another foot, arm, knee, butt, elbow etc).

    If two points of possession is made without a bobble or loss of control….complete! Otherwise incomplete….takes the grey area of possession vs ground contact completely out

    Two points on possession plus control….anything past that is not relevant

  29. Bert Emmanuel’s was definitely more clearly a catch than Dez’s but would be incomplete by your rules. So would the Calvin Johnson catch that was more clearly a catch than Dez’s. The current rules are better than yours, even though I thought Dez also caught that pass and was extending, and I’m a Packers fan.

  30. Sounds easy but often the ball is moving while they are taking the third step. Many of the so called contraversial calls regarding a catch are really the players fault. They are getting paid a lot for their craft. If they are going to the ground, protect the ball like it is a baby, don’t show boat and be sure the ball doesn’t touch the ground and,or move. Real simple. Don’t blame the referee or the rule blame the player executing the catch. End of story.

  31. The current rule, as it applies to the Dez Bryant catch, and by the way the ruling on the field, hinged on whether or not Dez transitioned from gaining control of the ball to trying to advance it. In my opinion, that happened. If the rule was changed to simplify the “football move” part by replacing it with the requirement of a third step it would mean that a player who is in control of the ball coming down to earth but can’t make three steps is effectively done…brace for impact and secure the ball. If you watch Dez highlights that is not his playing style. No matter what position he is in once he has seized the ball he is trying to extend for every yard possible. I would hate to see that change because I consider Dez to have a gift when it comes to diving and reaching for yards. Just as with the OBJ catch I watch football hoping I will see something truly extraordinary. Frankly, I have read the rule over a couple of times. The only thing that seems subjective to me is the ability to recognize the difference between trying to advance the ball and just hanging on. The real problem, and this is from a Cowboys fan, is when a replay official or officials do not fully understand what the word undisputable means.

  32. Part 1 of this proposal isn’t good. The ball often touches the ground in the process of a catch while possessed by a receiver.

    Maintaining possession through the ball contacting the ground is even MORE proof of a catch.

  33. Or, how about this…

    Every team installs an interactive screen in every seat. Whenever the refs come up against a catch that isn’t obvious, they take it to the crowd to vote.

    Sure, that would be one heck of a new home field advantage, but it would certainly make it easier to justify those ticket prices 0 and make live games something unique you can’t get on TV…

  34. They definitely need to simplify and/or clarify the rule, but not allowing the ball to touch the ground isn’t going to work. There will be way too many great catches ruled incomplete (like Bert Emmanuels).

    Maybe just ask the refs to use some common sense?

  35. I have a solution…..

    How about the guy 900 miles away isn’t allowed to overrule the ref who was right in front of the play?

  36. Isn’t the issue with the catch itself? Like what constitutes a “football move”? I’m good with the eye test in that Calvin Johnson’s catch was clearly a catch, but how do we administer a football move?

  37. Can simplify things further……

    1) If the ball touches the ground at all, the pass is incomplete.

    2) For a catch to be complete, the player must maintain possession and do a “football” move.

    No real need to define it more…….

  38. Calvin Johnson= Catch. 2 feet down in the endzone play should be over.. Just like it is for a runner

  39. I like it, though the NFL Referee’s and Roger Goodell won’t make that happen because they wouldn’t be able to control the game to there liking as much, because it would be cut and dry with replay.

    Skywalker 🙂

  40. Ha, I was just in a conversation earlier today about the whole “turning/turned into a passing-league” argument and, how much effort, money, team restructuring, etc. is used and attempted in doing so. Yet, there isn’t even a universally understood base definition of what is and is not even considered a “Catch”.

    I think you hit it right here though. Your #1 and 2 seem as you suggest simple, clean and easy to understand. Also logical and very easily adaptable and definitely more reasonable.

    The only issue or argument I can think of against, is that it would make the games a little bit harder to fix 😉
    -But that’s a whole other banana.

  41. Given the large amount of passes that would be overturned because a part of the ball touched in the process of the guy going to the ground this would create more harm then good.

    Also law of unintended consequences is we start looking in slow mo if a guy starts to take a third step or not which would be even stupider then what we currently have.

  42. Why worry about it touching the ground? If the receiver does not demonstrate full control when the ball touches the ground, then rule it incomplete. If a receiver makes a fantastic catch and the tip of the ball barely grazes the ground, but the ball does not budge at all, then it would be a shame to say that was not a catch. The rest of your proposed rule works.

  43. Florio, nothing personal, completely hate it. Two hands, knee/feet down, then falls, with complete control of the ball in the players hands, the ball touches the ground, not moving in the players hands, and you’re going call that “incomplete”? Last season we saw two hands is seemingly not always necessary for a catch. I see nothing but a rain of challenge flags in ODB’s future in your rules.

    Here’s an idea, feel free to hate back:

    1. Collect all video available on all of the larger questionable/controversial pass plays (Johnson, Dez, etc.) and first make a decision if those should be considered catches.
    2. Of those questionable plays, the ones that are deemed catches should be kept readily available on file for future use as for visual comparison during official review.
    3. If a play arises where official review takes place, during the video review, introduce the video of the similar play(s) to that in question. The official can use that as a benchmark for making the final ruling of the play.

    This adds in the human element, of course. The strategy is somewhat similar to how older court cases are used during trial for guiding a ruling. And you would want to identify the very basic definition of a pass (2 hands/1 hand with ball secured against the body and 2 feet, demonstrated ball control, etc.).

  44. @Florio: IMO you have it dead on,, how can it be a catch if it hits the ground. In comparison in MLB if the ball hits the ground its either a hit or a ground fair or foul ball, not a out…how would it be if MLB umpires had to rule its a out if it hits the ground while defensive player is sliding along the ground and the ball lands in the web of his glove, on a short hop of 1 inch or less???

  45. The ground can not cause a fumble. If the player has made the reception and has made a football move and hits the ground and fumbles after contact with another player then the play is over. There is no fumble. All of that happened on the Dez play.

  46. I like the rule as it is…
    DEZ knew the rule & tried to be the hero instead of just doing what he’s paid to do & secure the ball(Dallas would have had 1st & goal)….it’s not that complicated….every wide receiver knows that if he is catching a ball & going to the ground he must not lose possession of it….
    Calvin Johnson’s non catch was worse than Bryant’s but again he only had to get up with the ball in his hand & it would have been a catch even though it hit the ground as he clearly had possession but instead he let it go hence no catch…. Players know the rule, they just have to follow it

  47. Not a fan, how about this.

    1. Control the ball. The ball can touch the ground as long as the ball has been controlled before it hits the ground and through the completion of the catch.

    2. The completion of the catch is made once three steps are taken. If three steps are not taken the ball must be controlled through the end of the play.

  48. What bothers me is requiring the receiver to maintain possession even off the field long after the play should be whistled dead. The only thing that should matter is possessing the ball on the legal field of play. Why are we looking at a guy who went flying 20 feet out of bounds, over the Gatorade table, under the players bench to see if he still has the ball, when he’s now OFF the official field of play? Something isn’t right about that. Does the WR have take the ball with him to the restroom, too? No, if he is holding the ball when he crosses out of bounds, and not bobbling the ball, the play should be over and that is a catch. Anything that happens when he falls to the ground out of bounds should be null and void because he’s no longer on the legal playing field.

  49. Simplicity is great, but I believe a ball that is controlled before hitting the ground, without a loss of control due to the ground, should be a completion, regardless of your feet hitting the turf.

  50. All I will say is this: if step 1 were ever implemented a LOT of receivers would lose a LOT of receptions. A large number DIVING catches, both those made in the middle of the field and those made on the sidelines, would be wiped out as a majority of them involve some part of the ball usually making contact with the ground, even if its only the nose of the ball. Thats a slippery slope.

  51. If you catch the ball and go to the ground and the ball is does not move when you hit the ground it is a catch. If it moves at all it is incomplete.

    You can use the ball to stand up (stupid calvin johnson rule 1 over) in the end zone.

    If you reach over the endzone and the ball comes out it is a fumble. No more break the plane and its a auto td. This is where the confusion is. Right now a runner does it and its a td. If a reciever does it, its incomplete. This will cause better ball control. Same thing if you touch pileon an lose ball. Its a fumble and if it goes out in endzone its a touchback. You got to keep ball in control.

  52. Here is an even simpler rule:

    A receiver obtains possession of the ball and gets both feet ( or a knee,shin,elbow) down without the ball touching the ground, it’s a catch.

  53. As with any rule, there will always be questions.
    Quote; ” If a player catches a pass, gets two feet down and takes a third step, the catch is complete.”
    What will the ruling be if he doesn’t take a third step? Is the pass ruled incomplete?
    Every fan, no matter what the sport, enjoys criticizing an on-the-field decision. It gives him or her something to shout about and who isn’t happy when having a good old moan and curse the ref.

  54. I am for any change that overturns the ridiculousness of the Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant situation NOT being catches, because both were catches. Especially with the Bryant situation where that WAS a catch. Bryant had 3 steps, his right forearm hit the ground, meanwhile having a had a guy draped on him, and THEN the ball hit the ground. But if the ground can’t cause a fumble….. You see where this is going.

    So, normally I disagree with most of your posts, but on this one, I agree with you fully and say that your interpretation is spot on.

  55. No.

    1) regardless if control is maintained it would be incomplete? In this reading a player could catch the ball, get two feet down, secure it, go to the ground and have the tip of the ball touch the ground and even though there is no ball movement and possession in maintained, its incomplete

    2) player catches the ball, takes a step, gets hit and loses the ball…the ball is on the ground as a fumble…but the player is on the ground…dead ball. At least according to the reading.

  56. I don’t have a better idea but I don’t like it. Think about all those diving catches, where a receiver stretches out to pull in a pass, the ball nicks the ground but doesn’t move. We’ve all become so accustomed to seeing this as a catch over the last 15 years. How soon before there is another Bert Emmanual catch where the game is on the line and fans are outraged? This is far more common than the Dez Bryant situation.

  57. And since Dez juggled the ball and didn’t secure it and take any steps before the ball hits the ground and and he loses control, that play was still an incomplete pass.

  58. Here’s an idea. Apply common sense. I’ve been watching NFL & CFL football for 40 years and for 30 of those years this didn’t seem to be a problem. Watch the replay, if it looks like he caught the ball, give him the reception. The same applies to intentionally grounding. If the quarterback throws the ball at the feet of the receiver 5 yards away, throw the flag. This game has gotten away from COMMON SENSE!

  59. I’m all for changing and simplifying this rule. I think your suggestion is very good, except I’d change two things:

    1.”…he must secure possession through the act of going to the ground” to something like “…he must secure the ball once on the ground while still demonstrating possession.” I’m thinking of Calvin Johnson at Chicago here. “Through the act” could be interpreted by an overly literal official to negate that catch…which we all know was a catch. Calvin’s placing the ball on the turf in that instance would be “demonstrating possession.”

    2. “If he loses possession while going to the ground without being touched by an opponent while falling, it’s a fumble” I’d change to “it’s incomplete.” I think that would be more consistent with 1 and hence simpler to officiate in real time.

    The NFL really needs to change this rule in the spirit of your suggestion.

  60. It should be simple enough. It’s a catch if the guy catches the ball. If he happens to be going to the ground at the time and the ground knocks the ball loose, it’s a dead ball since the ground can’t cause a fumble.

    That said, the Cowboys would’ve lost that game anyway, as much as that screws with the narrative.

  61. Just make stickum legal …. That way every one can go back to thinking Jerry Rice was the best WR ever instead of the fraudulent cheater he really is …. We all win.

  62. Florio — I like your solution. The only thing I would add is get rid of all replay reviews!!!! All they do is put more pressure on the officials, and the calls are still not satisfying everyone.
    For the first 60 some years of the NFL, there was no such thing as replay reviews. Then in 1986, they allowed the refs to review a replay if they deemed it necessary, and in 1999 gave the coaches the right to challenge their calls by asking to have a play reviewed.
    Since all of that was done, we have seen just as much controversy as before — maybe even more!
    The reviews slow down the game and they have not made officiating perfect as was hoped. Now, they’re talking about adding more reviews such as on pass interference calls. Imagine how much controversy that will cause!
    Here’s what I’d do. go back to the way it used to be. Let the DB’s put their hands on the WR’s until the ball is in the air. The 5 yard rule is a joke.
    Then, let the WR’s and DB’s play and let the better man win their battle. It’s ridiculously unfair to DB’s the way it is now. The WR’s are bigger, often faster, and then they get the benefit of bogus calls in pass interference 90% of the time.
    Also, reduce pass interference calls to “at the spot of the foul” and an automatic first down only when it’s 15 yards or less, and to a 15 yard penalty and automatic first down when it’s 16 yards or more.
    The officials are paid to officiate the game, and they are asked to do too much now. It’s so intimidating for them, they are afraid to make a call. And, how can anyone expect them to remember all the rules? They’re only human.
    In short — do everything they can to make the game better by eliminating all this extra crap which has done nothing but add controversy and slow the game down. And let the players on the field decide the game, not some guy sitting in a booth in NY.
    I am a Packers fan. I completely understand why Cowboys fans were so upset at the Dez Bryant incomplete pass call. That said, it was exactly the right call based on the stupid rule as it is written now.
    So, your idea is exactly right. If the ball touches the ground at any time during the catch — it should be incomplete, period. That way there is no question what a catch is or isn’t.
    Here’s the truth, though. The NFL will not do a simple solution as you have offered. They will complicate things even more by adding more replay.
    One thing I’d love to do is have a show after the game where they go back and replay all the things the announcers of the games say which are wrong. That would be an NFL Films classic.
    For example, David Diehl announced a Packers game and repeatedly called Brian Bu-la-ga Brian Be-lu-ga (like the whale). I mean, c’mon!! How can you be so dumb??? And the nitwit announcing the game with him never corrected him on the air of off.

  63. This still doesn’t fix the interception the Packers secured in Seattle…….and then had it taken away hometown style.

  64. What if the player jumps, catches, 1 handed, ball doesnt move, he stumbles 3 feet hit the groung and then he drops it? Pretty much the Dez play WITHOUT the “intentional” strectch for the endzone. If he doesnt make the stretch and gets hit on the way down and loses the ball on his third “stumbling step” seems incomplete. right?.

  65. Let’s scrap all of the language defining what a catch is, and start fresh, defining what a *drop* is, leaving everything else as a catch.

    If the ball touches the ground because the player does not have full control of it, it is a drop. If the ball touches the ground while in the player’s control, the player did not drop the ball.

  66. I like the idea of clarification, but the problem is that your definition of a “catch” assumes that “catch” is already defined: “If a player catches a pass…” — but that’s precisely the term that is undergoing definition!

    Don’t sweat it, though, I have the correct answer.

    A “catch” has two and only two ingredients: “possession”, which means that the ball is in the receiver’s grasp and under his control, and “touching in-bounds”. Both must occur. During the process of making a catch, there are only two relevant states: [1] acquiring possession and [2] having possession.

    During the process of acquiring possession, if any of the following things happen: (a) ball touches the ground; or (b) receiver [any body part] touches out-of-bounds; or (c) receiver [any body part except any part(s) of legs] touches the ground while simultaneously being touched by the opponent, then the pass is “incomplete”.

    If a moment occurs that the receiver has possession and is simultaneously touching [any part of the receiver’s torso or any part(s) of *both legs*] in-bounds, it is a “catch” and the pass is “complete”.

    Just stick to these statements and you will have an accurate, complete, and universally accepted definition of a “catch”, under any circumstances. Note that no further definitions are necessary, e.g., we don’t need to define “fumble” because a fumble could happen only after the pass is “complete” per the above definition, and therefore “fumble” is already defined other rules.

    You’re welcome, Florio!

  67. mnvikingsfan says:
    Mar 21, 2015 1:50 AM
    Can simplify things further……

    1) If the ball touches the ground at all, the pass is incomplete.


    Simple is nice, but this is an oversimplification.

    It’s entirely possible for the ball to touch the ground while the player still has it in his hands.

  68. Even simpler rule: “The pass will be considered a completed pass if it appears to be a completed pass, assuming the payer has two feet on the ground and is in bounds.”

    You see, we have complicated this by trying to apply to much science, logic, and math. A good referee should simply be asked to make a simple decision: was it a catch or not? The ref doesn’t need a bunch of lab equipment and theory and legal history.

    Is it a catch or not. That should be the rule.

  69. How about even simpler than that Florio? If the receiver can show firm possession and two feet down on the field of play for one full second then it’s a catch at the point. You could set the cameras to count the second during the replay like a stopwatch, it would make it interesting to watch for the fans. I never understood the football move nonsense.

  70. Why do the rules have to be changed because the Cowboy’s think they got jobbed.
    Quit crying, and sign another criminal.

  71. NFL will never clear up this rule or several other rules (pass interference, illegal contact, offensive holding etc.) that are deliberately written to be convoluted and open to multiple interpretation. This affords the league the flexibility to manipulate outcomes to their liking (see Detroit/Dallas playoff)

  72. I agree. It’s an acceptable trade off. The only thing I would do to make it better would be to have all replays done from a central location by one group of officials. This group of officials would be full time employees of the NFL and spend the off-season getting this stuff down. The refs on the field can still be part-timers.

  73. I may be a tad paranoid being a Vikes fan but I agree with some of the posters that said the league likes to keep things vague so they have more control of the outcome of games . Perfect example is the Pearson push off called defensive PI the phantom PI call in the Saints favor that basically gave them the game and many more . The NFL likes to use refs to control outcomes of close games its a fact.

  74. So, the league wants to add playoff games, added and can coordinate a veteran combine, have a social media presence, and can negotiate billion dollar contracts, but they can’t write their own rules for play that can clearly explain one of the very basic rules of the game (in a passing league, no less)?

  75. If the ball touches the ground, but has been caught, the receiver has two feet down, and is in possession of the ball (it is not being bobbled around), it should be a catch , whether or not the ball touches the ground.

    The spot where it touches the ground should be the down mark. The end of the play.

    (Make me Commish.)

  76. Glad to see the light bulb came on…
    FinFan68 says:
    Mar 18, 2015 10:42 AM
    The catch definition is easy to fix. Possession/control (same rules about being in bounds–2 feet etc.) + player movement with the ball under control = catch. If the ball pops out upon hitting the ground: defender contact = catch/down by contact, no defender contact = catch/fumble. Those bang-bang plays where the defender separates the ball would be incomplete and so would diving attempts where first contact with ground jars the ball loose. Get rid of all the rest of the speculative garbage.

  77. Here’s the logical solution = for 30 seconds have people vote on twitter then send that vote to congress to have it pass. Done deal.

  78. Those rules are not clear.
    This would be clear.

    1 – Three steps and its always a catch.

    2 – If the ball touches the ground before 3 steps its not a catch.

    3 If you go to the ground before 3 steps and the ball doesnt touch the ground its a catch.

    4 In the end zone both feet have to touch the ground before toycross the line – all other rules remain the same.

  79. So you said, “The NFL says it’s too difficult to change the language of the rule”. Why is that. Seems to me that is the most logical thing to do? It is simple really, start with the end in mind, and go backwards to the ball leaving the QBs hand. To continue to confuse the fans would be illogical, don’t you think? The eyes don’t lie, if it looks like a catch, it should be a catch.

  80. The rule is fine, but the officials are tied for worst in sports with the NBA. NFL has games decided every week by officiating and it’s quite embarrassing when it’s really not a difficult situation to fix at all.

    Hire full time officials that are young and athletic. Ya know, guys that can actually keep up with the speed of the game. Make their jobs year round and provide training and a scoring system that rewards the good refs and weeds out the bad ones. Stop hiring the owners’ golf buddies as officials.

    Of course we know this will never happen because the NFL, just like the NBA, loves having the ability to manipulate games with officiating.

  81. Omg! The rule isn’t that difficult to understand. It doesn’t need to be changed just because most people are t smart enough to know that the Dez Bryant play clearly was not a catch.

  82. The proposed rule could work, but fans, the media and the league would need to accept an increase in cheap fumbles. Every time a guy took a third step while going to the ground then subsequently lost the ball it would be a fumble. That happens more than you might think, but we usually don’t notice because it ends up being an incompletion under the existing rules.

    I’m not saying that’s a reason not to go to something simpler like this. I’m just saying that something simpler will ALSO create game changing moments that don’t necessarily feel like they should have been game changing.

  83. This wouldn’t solve the Dez Bryant play. To me, it looked Dez never had possession of that ball – He was bobbling it after the packer db hit it. . him “extending” the ball looked like he was reaching to try to gain control of it.. which he never did. I understand people see this differently, and I don’t think it can be solved with a rule change.

  84. How about, when a player catches a pass with 2 feet down, anywhere on the field, time freezes in that instance, and it’s always a catch, regardless of whether he’s falling down or not?

    Don’t agree at all that if the ball hits the ground, it’s always incomplete. That means a player can never come back to the ball and catch it with 2 hands securing the ball, if it should happen to graze the ground?

  85. Here’s what I don’t like. A receiver makes a diving leap, drags the tips of his toes on the ground an inch before the sideline, grabs the ball out of the air, maintains possession, and falls out of bounds.
    Was the ball on the field of play throughout this process? To me, that’s the relevant question. Because if the ball in the air was over the sideline when the receiver caught it, even though his toes were in bounds the ball was not. In my mind, that’s an incomplete pass, because it was not made on the field of play. The ball in the air was out of bounds when the receiver caught it, and toes are not feet. In other words, the receiver did not have possession on the field of play.
    I like the rule the way it is–possession, control, football move. A receiver must maintain possession and control throughout the football move. Dez did not do that. While executing a football move, he lost control of the ball and did not maintain possession throughout the play. Therefore, the pass is incomplete.
    The reason why the ground cannot cause a fumble is because the running back had possession and control of the ball while executing a football move, until he hit the ground. He is down at that point. The ball popped out, but that is not a fumble.
    It’s different for receivers though. A catch is one thing, a completion is another. Possession and control throughout a football move on the field of play, it doesn’t get more simple than that.

  86. 1.) Hire three grandmothers with no football expertise to watch the games.

    2.) Show them the replay

    3.) Ask them “did he catch the ball?”

    4.) Majority say “yes,” then it’s a catch.

    No matter how else you write the rule – something will not be covered and will probably come up during an important play in a playoff game.

  87. @Florio .. i got an alternative .. see what you think..

    leave the wording as it exists today .. but require that all replay reviews are done in realtime fullspeed replay. none of this slow-motion stuff. the replay review ref can have all the camera angles .. just not slow-motion.

  88. If the ground can’t cause a fumble, it shouldn’t cause an incomplete. If a player has 2 feet in bounds or his knee hits the ground, and he has secure possession (ball doesn’t bobble) it’s a catch. someone please tell my why it has to be more complex than that.

  89. I like rule suggestions that goes back to the school yard basics where you don’t have a catch when the ball hits the ground.

  90. My biggest pet peeve is how the catch rules are inconsistent depending on where the player is. That is simply bizarre. And all the stuff regarding if the guy “made a football move” is absurd since no two officials seem to agree on what a football move is.

  91. I can live with it. Since Dez took 3 steps, his catch would have been a legal catch and then a fumble which he recovered just like you and me in the backyard.

  92. NFL, quit being so dense, and defer to your officials to call it as they see it. Most know what a freakin’ catch is without having to have a law degree to decipher the NFL rulebook. Empower the refs just a bit on this one.

  93. I think you want a rule that convers 98% of all situations. You will not have anything that will get to 100%. I can only recall two incidents where I thought it looked like a catch, but by definition it is not…Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant. That’s good enough for me, even with the possibility that it may sting me in the future with my team.

    If they are steps, and not taps..then perhaps that may work.

    The third step (if taps are allowed), is not adequate…unless you specify that it needs to be three steps that go somewhere. Otherwise the receivers will learn and be coached to very quickly do three taps on their way to the ground…it would be ruled a catch even though they may lose the ball immediately.

    Here’s a thought- No matter what the rule is (and it can remain the same)…know it, understand it and teach it. If Dez Bryant would have just focused on the catch, instead of going for the end zone…perhaps it would have been a different outcome.

  94. stupid …. that third step in most every case is from momentum and is therefore not actually a “controlled” step as in the Dez reception….the momentum creates a uncontrolled step/stumble or two as you go down to the ground which is actually the same then as catching a pass and falling directly to the ground….there’s nothing wrong with the rule as it stands now…. leave it alone

  95. An Easy Solution to Rule Changes at NFL League Meetings (Just 3 Steps):

    1. Open meeting with 1 hour presentation of whiny complaints by Cowboys fans, players, team officials and owner.

    2. Immediately amend or abolish any rules necessary to satisfy all the complaints in Step 1.

    3. Adjourn meeting.

  96. Current rule is terrible and needs to be addressed. No one knows what a catch is in the NFL anymore. That includes players, coaches, fans and referees. Not sure if Florio’s suggestion is perfect, but it’d be better than the current mess.

  97. There is one BIG problem here, Florio.

    “1. If a player catches a pass, gets two feet (or one shin/knee) down, and then goes to the ground, he must secure possession through the act of going to the ground. If the ball touches the ground at any time in the process, the pass is incomplete.”

    Now then, your are defining what a catch is with “If a player catches a pass. . . “. You are defining the word “catch” using the word “catch”.

    For example, the color is white if it is white.

  98. Dez caught that ball. I don’t like the Cowboys, but that was a catch.

    Balls can bounce around while both defense and offense are trying to get it. So a player is laying on the ground and the ball finds its way into his bread basket.
    He never controlled the ball. But that would be a catch like in the Super bowl on the long pass at the very end.
    If Seattle caught that ball, Dez Bryant caught his ball.

  99. Simple, far better solution:
    Controlled possession of the ball and two feet down = catch. No football moves. No to the ground/through the ground nonsense. That’s it.

    Only problem I see is more fumbles on bang-bang plays over the middle. Oh well. If you’re a receiver better learn to be strong in your possession of the ball like a rebounder in basketball. That’s all.

  100. Need to simplify more:

    1.If a player catches a pass, whether in the air or the ground, it’s a catch. If the ball touches the ground at any time in the process, it’s still a catch. If he loses possession when he hits the ground it’s a fumble whether or not he is touched by a defensive player.

    2.If a player juggles the ball but regains possession before he is down, it’s a catch.

  101. Even more simple. If a player receives a pass and it never touches the ground, no matter if bobbled or not, it’s a catch. If it touches the ground, not a catch.

  102. Its something simple the NFL made complicated because the way the rule is interpreted. A player catches the ball controls it with both feet down must control until he is down by contact or demonstrates control while inbounds it should be a catch.
    Lunging with the ball after the catch is control as in the case of Dez Turning around with the ball in hand after the catch is control in the case of Johnson. Both times the player had control after being down by contact. Dez was touched and knee was down before he lost control Johnson was down because of the TD. The NFL is taking into consideration what happen after the whistle should have blown.

    It’s like the tuck rule when the rule contradicts what we see on the field.

  103. r302112 says:
    Mar 21, 2015 12:41 PM
    Dez caught that ball. I don’t like the Cowboys, but that was a catch.

    Balls can bounce around while both defense and offense are trying to get it. So a player is laying on the ground and the ball finds its way into his bread basket.
    He never controlled the ball. But that would be a catch like in the Super bowl on the long pass at the very end.
    If Seattle caught that ball, Dez Bryant caught his ball.


    There is a huge difference between those two plays: in Jermaine Kearse’s catch, the ball never hit the ground, while in Dez Bryant’s non-catch, the ball did hit the ground as Dez was in the act of going to the ground.

  104. A catch is simple. Leave it to the nimrods in the NFL league office to screw it up.

    The whole feet, knee elbow issue is assumed to be considered in bounds. Lets focus on the possession aspect:

    1. The whole football move is a bunch of idiocy.

    2. If the receiver has firm control of the ball in the air or in process of going to ground its a catch. Simple as that. If receiver has firm control of ball in hands and does t get second foot down and defender knocks it out its a fumble.

  105. Florio, please, you or one of your minions claim this as your own idea and throw your weight behind it. I was a fan of the NFL until it was ruined by nonsense.
    If the player controls the ball before it touches the ground or he goes out of bounds, it’s a catch. Period.
    The only judgement call is ‘did he have control of the ball’ before whatever happens next. WHATEVER happens next, including the ball touching the ground.
    The ground can’t cause a fumble, neither can it cause an incompletion. Did he have. control. of the ball before it touched the ground. JUDGEMENT CALL!
    Possession of a fumbled ball is awarded to a player who controls it after juggling it while down or going down. So is possession of a thrown ball. Did he have. control. of it before the ball touched the ground. JUDGEMENT CALL!
    Did a receiver catching the ball while going out of bounds have control of the ball before going out of bounds? – that’s an age old JUDGEMENT CALL! without rules controversy.
    As this will be, exactly like.

  106. Mike, I like your first point a lot. Trying to provide for the possibility that a ball could touch the ground and still be ruled a catch is a lot of why the current rule is so bad. When I played, that was called trapping the ball against the ground and wasn’t allowed. It shouldn’t be allowed now.

    Your second point may need clarification. If a player makes a catch, gets 2 feet down but does not take a third step before being tackled and the ball is stripped before he hits the ground, is that a fumble or an incompletion?

  107. If it had been a Green Bay receiver it would have been a catch. Cowboys can’t leave no doubt!!! Just like on “Remember the Titans ” you can’t give them any chance to hose you or they will!!! And did

  108. thetroofishere says:
    Mar 20, 2015 11:58 PM

    Use the 3 guys in a bar interpretation.

    If 3 guys would reasonably believe he caught the ball, took three steps and lunged for the goal line, then it’s a catch.
    Yeah, I’m sure there would be no bias from fans watching the game in a bar.

  109. People, IF Dez Bryant could’ve gotten up with the ball in his hands and not pop out of his hands–it would’ve been complete. In the process of trying to make the catch, it was knocked from his hands by Sam Shields and Bryant was trying to control it when he went down with his arm stretched out–did the ball come loose? YES, it was NOT a catch since he did NOT control the ball throughout the catch. There was no “fumble” since the ball came out upon hitting the turf–ground can’t cause a fumble but it CAN cause an incomplete pass–how hard is that to understand? Bryant only had control for just an instant before it was knocked out by the turf. It’s amazing how many don’t understand the rule.

  110. Decent ideas.
    I would start though with ONLY being concerned about the CATCH. After the ball is caught – he is no different than a RB and use those well established rules.

    Only worry about the catch / possession.
    2 feet in and ball secured – good. If you require 2 feet in AND a 3rd step – DBs will be HEAD HUNTING.

    2 feet in, ball secured and makes a football move – SEE RB RULES

    Sure, there is a little more to it than this – but, for the VAST majority of plays – the WR becomes a RB after the catch – use those rules.

  111. So really all you’re saying is that 3 steps equals a catch. Why not make it 4? Or, why not make it 2?? Your change makes the Dez Bryant play a catch, but the Calvin Johnson play still incomplete… Sort of better. But simple and easy? You still have problems.

  112. Here’s the thing about the Dez Bryant catch. If you look at the many angles available on video replay to the person that has watched football all their lives the “catch” was almost instantaneous. Anyone who disagrees is either a cowboy hater or is simply over thinking what constitutes a catch. He went up for it in complete control, snatched the ball out of mid air, and then turned his focus to the landing and how he could gain yardage.

  113. This is where you need to employ the 50 drunk guys in a bar rule. Literally. Poll 50 drunk guys in a bar. Every week choose different bars in different areas around the country- in all american towns like Cheyenne, Wyoming. Bar must be at least 4-5 states away from either team involved to vote on the outcome.

    This way fans are able to be involved without the rigged bias of NFL officials. Great marketing tool, fair play advantage, and no one complains. Get it done Goodell

  114. kcchefs58 says:
    Mar 21, 2015 12:15 AM
    The current rules are not difficult. Anyone who knows the rules and can be objective can easily determine was is and is not a catch. Dez’s attempt was clearly not a catch. It was close, but the replay process did its job and got it right.


    Just because the refs got the call right according to the rule, it doesn’t mean Bryant didn’t catch that ball.

    Dez caught the ball in a way that any sane person would call it a catch, and according to the rule it was called not a catch. THAT’S what makes the current rule difficult.

  115. Here’s the thing. It would have been deemed a catch if he hadn’t been falling while he caught it. So the rules for going to the ground apply, not the rules for 2 feet down with a football act. Dez then lied to the ref about “reaching out for the score” in order to cover up the fact that he was falling. Anyone who disagrees is either a cowboy lover or simply unable to make the distinction between the two situations.

  116. The rule is fine as it is. Trying to simplify it to placate the casual fan will only result in more controversies. It got this way BECAUSE simple was too inconsistent. Sounds all smug to say “if three guys in a bar think its a catch…” Those three guys are drunk, not very bright when sober, and rooting blindly for their team so im pretty sure the eye test in real time or with slow motion replay would result in some inane judgments.

  117. Define “catches.” Define “takes a step.” When does a catch occur under your rule? When it hits fingertips? What if there is a bobble? What if he is still collecting the pass into his body when that third step occurs? What is a step under your rule? What if I catch a pass while going to the ground and my “step” is really just an uncontrolled stumble? This is awful— we are always looking for ways to bail out players from not going their jobs… maintain possession and there is no problem. Bryant never had possession of that ball when he was in control of his body… That’s what made it not a catch.

  118. As much as I hated the outcome of the original play in the 1999 NFC Championship game, I believe the NFL got it right in clarifying my catch, non-catch, a catch under the new rules. I’ve lived for the last 15+ years thinking about my catch and how it cost me a trip to the SB! The current Bert Emanuel Rule is clearly more accurate than any other rule that’s been in place for clarifying a catch in the NFL. The interpretation of the rule has created more grey areas than not. As a WR, it’s clear to me what a catch should or should not be and the rule gives a clear baseline to help establish that. Changing the Rule will most likely provide more controversy than needed. It’s been a nightmare at best living with that play…but I’m satisfied with how the NFL agreed that it made a mistake and fixed the issue. The rule has become apart of my legacy as a professional and that’s awesome to know that I’ve made such as an important impact on the game we all love!

  119. @jingo2015Brya,

    “Bryant never had possession of that ball when he was in control of his body… That’s what made it not a catch.”

    WRONG. Bryant absolutely had possession, and he had three steps before he went down. When Bryant went to the ground, the ball hit the ground and then it moved, but this was only AFTER his forearm hit the ground just before he stretched the ball out. It was a catch. Enough said.

    The rule, as it stands now, is RIDICULOUS. It needs to be changed.

  120. thetroofishere says: “Use the 3 guys in a bar interpretation.

    If 3 guys would reasonably believe he caught the ball, took three steps and lunged for the goal line, then it’s a catch.”

    I would love to see that. They could put a bar in at the NY headquarters where they do the replay review, and have a pool of guys at varying stages of drunkenness during games, TV cameras standing by.

  121. Where I disagree is that if the receiver has possession of the ball (as Dez did, to my mind) but in falling to the ground the ball touches the ground BUT HE DOESN’T LOSE POSSESSION, then it should be a catch.

    The ball was already caught. Maintaining possession until the play is dead is what we’re talking about.

    I would also add that, in determining where to spot the ball, they will place the ball where the carrier is when whatever-necessary-body part touches the ground. If a receiver’s knee touches before the ball is even near the ground, why isn’t he considered down? (assuming he’s being tackled, that is)

  122. Our country doesn’t need more laws and the NFL doesn’t need more rules. The ref was in perfect position and ruled it a catch. Good enough for many years in football at all levels.

    Now everything is being over analyzed. Stop the madness.

  123. There are several problems with the wording in the rules:

    First- the definition of A Catch states that it requires possession of a loose ball in flight, and that takes you to the Possession of a Loose Ball, because a pass is a loose ball that has been thrown. That definition states,”To gain possession of a loose ball that has been caught, intercepted, or recovered,
    a player must have complete control of the ball and have both feet or any other part of his body, other than his hands, completely on the ground inbounds, and maintain control of the ball long enough to perform any act common to the game. If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any other part of his body to the ground, there is no possession. This rule applies in the field of play and in the end zone.”

    Do you notice that this suggests that the ball has already been caught? If that is the case, A Catch cannot require the standard of this rule, because that standard is suggesting “A Catch” already exists. If the NFL truly rules based on the word “possession” in the definition of “A Catch”, no catch can ever be made, because it is required to occur before it occurs. In other words, “A Catch” can’t be made without “Possession” and “Possession” can’t be made without “A Catch”. This is nonsensical! The problem here is that the word “control” needs to replace the word “possession” in the definition of “A Catch”.

    This brings us to clarification that shows that “A Catch” is determined by the first two elements of the three element Completed Pass rule. The third element of this rule cannot possibly be considered a part of “A Catch” because it is required to occur AFTER the first two elements have been fulfilled.

    It should be understood that “A Catch”, “A Completion”, and “Possession” are not synonymous. They all have different meanings. “A Catch” includes control of a loose ball in flight, while inbounds and having sufficient contact on the field. This is described in the first two elements of the Completed Pass rule. Including the third element of the rule makes the “Completion”. “Possession of a Loose Ball” or “Possession” does not necessarily involve “A Catch”. It also includes a loose ball on the ground. So it is ridiculous that the NFL is using these terms synonymously.

    The part of the Possession of a Loose Ball rule that states “and maintain control of the ball long enough to perform any act common to the game” is made in assumption that the ball has already been CAUGHT. And that is the same assumption made in the first part of the rule.

    The same logic applies to the third element of the Completed Pass rule. It directly states that it must occur after elements (a) and (b) have been fulfilled. The reason for that is that element (a) and (b) ARE “A Catch” and combined with them, element (c) makes “A Completion”.

    So, the rules already defines what “A Catch” is. All you have to do is read the rules in order to see that.

    As for the Bryant CATCH, it is the NFL’s deliberate intention to ignore the fact that Bryant made “A Catch” BEFORE the act that caused him to go to the ground. That act was tripping over Shields. Watching the play in slow motion you can see that Bryant’s second foot(right) contacts the ground BEFORE the beginning of Bryant’s fall to the ground. But the rule, specifically Item 1, requires the fall to originate before that second foot hits the ground, thus being in the act of catching a pass. Bryant had made the catch before his action of falling began. So the overturning of the call on the field was invalid, and also contrary to the rule that states that the Referee must have indisputable visual evidence that the ruling on the field was incorrect.

  124. Wow! It is clear from reading these comments that many of the commenters have never even read the rules. Many have no recollection of the play. Sam Shields argued that is was a catch!

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