Catch rule apparently gets misapplied, and maybe that’s good news


In recent years, the NFL has been adamant about the rule regarding the process of making a catch when the receiver is going to the ground.  The receiver must maintain possession through the act of going to the ground.

Late in the third quarter of Saturday night’s divisional playoff game between the Packers and Cardinals, Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught a pass and stumbled to the ground, taking several steps. When he landed, Fitzgerald lost possession.

Ruled a catch on the field, Green Bay challenged. Based on the manner in which the NFL stubbornly has applied the rule as written in recent years, it shouldn’t have been a catch. After further review, however, the ruling on the field was upheld.

Said NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino on Twitter after the decision: “On Fitzgerald play ruling on field was that he was a runner before ball hit the ground. Not enough to change.”

The ultimate logic is consistent with Blandino’s recent explanation of the touchdown catch by Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant against the Bengals a week ago. Blandino believed it wasn’t a catch, but under the standard applicable to replay, there wasn’t sufficient visual evidence to overturn the ruling on the field.

In other words, if the ruling on the field had been that the pass was incomplete, the evidence would have been insufficient to overturn that, too.

That’s a reasonable explanation in isolation, but it overlooks one key historical fact. A year ago, in a divisional game involving the Cowboys and Packers, Dallas receiver Dez Bryant executed a similar maneuver, catching the ball, taking multiple steps while going to the ground, and actually lunging forward toward the goal line before landing and losing possession. In that case, the ruling on the field — by the official standing right there watching it happen — was that Dez caught it.

The same deference to the ruling on the field that applied to the Fitzgerald becoming a runner before the ball hit the ground should have applied to the Dez Bryant non-catch a year ago. If there wasn’t indisputable visual evidence to overturn the most recent one, there shouldn’t have been indisputable visual evidence to overturn the one from a year ago.

The only good news is that perhaps the NFL will interpret the rule differently moving forward, applying the very high 100-drunks-in-a-bar replay standard to the inherent judgment call of whether a player possessed the ball long enough to become a runner. This allows officials to apply a know-it-when-you-see-it-style standard to the question of whether the receiver had the ball long enough, making it as a practical matter impossible to overturn the ruling on the field.

48 responses to “Catch rule apparently gets misapplied, and maybe that’s good news

  1. The rule is terrible. Any person watching calls that a catch. Only in the NFL is there a question. If you can reach out and/or lunge forward, it’s a catch. It’s really not that complicated.

  2. The refs have been missing a lot this game. The Cardinals have been getting away with holding all game.

  3. Consistently inconsistent.

    Can’t stand Collinsworth. Could he just say to Cards!!!!!!!!

  4. The rule as it exists right now is different than the rule that existed last year during the Bryant play. Remember he offseason rule adjustments? Perhaps that had something to do with the different interpretations, as the rule isn’t the same

  5. So they say their going to start running everything thru Blandino so that at least they will be consistent in their calls instead of every official having a different interpretation and yet he keeps sticking with the inconsistent calls on the field instead of ruling the way he thinks is the right call.What a joke.
    It should be about getting it right whatever you think right is.

  6. yes, Calvin did catch the ball;

    however, the moment he used it as a crutch in his talon for a hand to get back up with–EVEN HAD HE DONE SO FIVE MINUTES AFTER THE PLAY, he subjected himself to a literal interpretation of the completion codicil of the catch rule;

    why people are so confused about this is really mystifying;

    doesn’t matter if you run 20 yards if your body is headed for the turf coincident with the act of catching the ball;

    you go down at ANY TIME during the completion process then you’d better demonstrate full possession of the ball through the conclusion of your contact with the ground;

    it’s the same principle as if a receiver juggled the ball for twenty yards and then finally fully dropped it or lost it out of bounds, regardless the reason;

    no one would question that as an incomplete pass;

    that is why it’s clear as bells Bryant NEVER caught that pass last year any more than Fitzgerald did today;

  7. McCarthy should not have challenged it (losing a time out). It seems evident that these common sense calls are not going to be overturned. My guess is that behind the scenes the umps union is demanding an end to overrulings based on hyper technical definitions .

  8. The missed call was a good thing for the Cardinals, a bad thing for the Packers. The refs missed a ton of holding calls that should have been called on the Cardinals too.

  9. Fitzgerald clearly caught that ball. Also, just for the record and without question, so did Dez Bryant a year ago. Stevie Wonder could see that.

  10. Can’t we just go back to the rule as it was when I was playing street ball in the 70s – Two feet down with firm possession of the ball. (or butt, knee etc).


    End of discusssion.

  11. Lotta bad calls but in the end, none mattered. Cards executed in overtime and won the game. But it was not a catch according to NFL rules and NFL precedent – he was ” going to the ground” from the moment he got possession. Simple call – not a catch. The obvious PI on the throw to Janis on the Packers second to last drive – obvious. Pack got away with PI on Fitzgerald during the Cards last drive during regulation. Bad calls happen. Great game. Packers had a good year considering the adversity. Go Cardinals in the playoffs. Packers look great for next year. Our young receivers developed and Jordy will be back and we still have the best QB in the game. Its great to be a fan of The Green Bay Packers!

  12. “The same deference to the ruling on the field that applied to the Fitzgerald becoming a runner before the ball hit the ground should have applied to the Dez Bryant non-catch a year ago.”

    Based on the rule it was not a catch. And there was indisputable evidence that it was not a catch on replay. Fitzgerald was not running so much as his momentum was carrying him forward and he was trying to get his feet under him to stay upright. He was going to the ground and must maintain possession all the way through hitting the ground. He did not. Bad and inconsistent call based on the rule.

    If they want to call those plays catches then they should change the rule… and I wish they would so there could be some consistency. Although even then I’m not sure there would be consistency.

  13. Every time a small team (Detroit) lose because of made up rules, it affects games years later when they have to rationalize it.

    Every time the Patriots win because of made up rules (tuck rule), it affects games years later when they have to rationalize it.

  14. Bring back and long live Mike Pereira. Dean Blandino has been an embarrassment and a stain on the NFL. There were never this many inconsistencies when Mike was in charge.The ball came out and in the true spirit of a “catch” it was not fully completed. The NFL sucks now because of Blandino.

  15. amishcowboy says:
    Jan 17, 2016 12:57 AM
    “Dez caught it…”

    Maybe the refs were making up for picking up the flag on the pass interference against Detroit the previous week.

    The refs giveth and the refs taketh away…

  16. The rule was designed for going to the ground WHILE making the catch, not AFTER making the catch. It’s been misapplied too often and it was refreshing to see it done right last night.

  17. It IS great to be a fan of the Green Bay Packers!!

    Fitzgerald’s catch was just that. These writers conjure up stories to stimulate clicks … nothing to see here … move along.

    Congrats to the Cards and their fans. Like last year, the Pack could have, and SHOULD have, put those guys away and didn’t. So it is written, so it shall be.

  18. So all around good guy Larry Fitzgerald got the benefit of the doubt and Dez the hoodlum punk did not? Im ok with that….

  19. Only the NFL can make something so easy, so difficult.

    Every play seems to be scrutinized for penalties making the viewing and listening to explanations on calls / no-calls maddening.

  20. Let somebody other than a lawyer draft the rules. That might make them more easily understood.
    Or maybe just quit trying to control the outcomes of games.

  21. Fitz caught the ball, but in doing so he was always going to the ground and has to maintain possession. He went to the ground out of bounds. The ball hit the ground. Should he simple. No catch according to the rules as they stand not the rules as they want them to be.

  22. I will swear to my dying breath that Dez’ call last year was because of the non-call the week before in Detroit. Blandino trying to look all fair and everything.

  23. I still don’t understand why people have such a hard time understanding the Dez non-catch. HE DOESN’T TAKE MULTIPLE STEPS! He jumps up in the air, then gets the ball, and then lands. LANDING IS NOT TAKING A STEP! As he lands he’s falling, one foot comes off the ground and then barely touches the ground again, so he get his one step, but then the ball pops out as soon as he hits the ground.

    Look, if you want to change the rule so that landing and showing control of the ball counts as a catch, fine. But he doesn’t take multiple steps. As much as I, a vikes fan, would’ve loved it to be a catch, it wasn’t, and it’s not half as confusing as people pretend it was if they actually break it down.

  24. Fitz was already on the ground with the ball in bounds. When he crossed the sideline the play was over. Immediately. He then lost grip of the ball. He did not lose the ball while going to the ground.


  25. Big difference between Fitz’s catch and Dez’s non catch.

    Fitz’s knee hits the ground before the rest of his body so he is down at that point. Dez laid out his body so the first thing to hit the ground was the ball, making it an incomplete pass.

  26. If you don’t realize by now that Blandino doesn’t know what he is doing then you too could work in the NFL front offices.

    Here is the thing – the NFL has a really bad, entirely ambiguous rule that makes no sense. Of course that was a catch, but by rule it isn’t. The Dolphins caught a TD against the Pats in week 17 where the receiver caught it was going to the ground with the defender, took two to three steps in doing so, landed, slid and then juggled the ball. Now, I have no issue with that being a TD. IT should be a TD. But, by rule, it isn’t.

    The NFL is going to have to start the “Constanza Rule” when reviewing a catch and doing the exact opposite of what the rule says in order to call these correctly.

  27. The reason this is so controversial isn’t just because of Blandino or the officials. It’s mainly because of the media like PFT. They don’t want to admit that the league plays favorites, creating inconsistencies. The media and the fans need to unify on this point for anything to change. Otherwise we just have a variation of the WWE. We get professional calls and we get WWE style calls. It creates “confusion”. Dez’s catch was officiated using the WWE style officiating. PFT needs to report it like it is.

  28. Interesting how Fitzgerald was awarded a catch, but Richard Rodgers wasn’t on the play where he got up and ran.

  29. chiefpontiac57 says:
    Jan 17, 2016 8:00 AM

    Ground can’t cause a fumble after contact….simple

    Yes, but the receiver must first establish control and possession. So, it is necessary to first establish whether or not a catch is made before establishing whether or not there is a fumble.
    TheDPR says:
    Jan 17, 2016 8:09 AM

    The rule was designed for going to the ground WHILE making the catch, not AFTER making the catch. It’s been misapplied too often and it was refreshing to see it done right last night.

    But that’s the point. Fitzgerald had not yet made the catch. The rule states that “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.” Because Fitzgerald was TRYING to remain upright but could not, by rule he was going to the ground WHILE making the catch. He had to maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground. He did not, so it should have been ruled an incomplete pass.

  30. So tired of hearing about this… common sense will tell you if it’s a catch or not… quit over analyzing everything to death… you’re killing the game.

  31. let us make this very simple;

    did the all touch the ground when Diva Bryant went to the ground?

    answer: yes

    did he have full control over the ball at all times as he went to the ground?

    answer: no

    NO CATCH (note: # of steps before hitting ground are IRRELEVANT)

    did Martavius let the ball touch ground AT ANY TIME?

    answer: no

    did Martavius maintain full control of the ball AT ALL TIMES?

    answer : yes (note: part of his body he pinned it to IRRELEVANT)


    end of argument;

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