Punitive Catch Rule Overdue For Proper Revision

The Pittsburgh Steelers were not robbed of a touchdown last night at the end of the game by the officials—or more accurately, the league office—who overturned what was ruled on the field as a 10-yard touchdown reception by tight end Jesse James.

By the letter of the law, the officials appropriately applied the catch rule as it was written to the James play. I have seen some people dispute whether or not there was indisputable evidence that the football ever actually touched the ground, but this strikes me as a desperation, Hail Mary critique, as I find it hard to believe anybody actually believes the ball did not touch the ground.

Now, with that out of the way, that doesn’t mean that we cannot talk about the rule itself, and the fact that it is flawed. This will come as sour grapes to anybody who isn’t a Steelers fan who might read this, no doubt, and I’m sure there are articles that pop up like these for every team after they are on the butt end of the rule, but here it is anyway.

The problem with the rule as it is written is that it penalizes a player for attempting to make an effort to advance the football. Had James not attempted to turn his body upfield and advance the ball over the goal line, he could have quite easily secured the football without it touching the ground.

In an effort to ensure that the football would cross the plane, however, the tight end extended a full-out effort that made retaining possession through contact with the ground a dicey proposition. Even though the rule is in place and should be known by all, most seem to work under the understanding that a lunge is enough to qualify as a catch.

It is unfortunate that the Steelers were harmed by the catch rule, but the reality is that every team plays under the same rule and would suffer the same consequences. The only thing that can be done from this point forward is to seek a further change to the rule that would be less punitive toward an attempt to make a play.

We have seen this rule blow up in the league’s faces with some high-profile incidents in the past, such as non-catches from Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson. I’m sure that the league doesn’t actively want to look the fool when these to-the-eye catches are fine-printed out of existence.

It would be advantageous for the league to revisit the catch rule in a very earnest matter this offseason, perhaps even looking at it from scratch, at the very least with an angle toward reducing the number of plays in which a player is penalized for trying to make a play. it’s just not good for football.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • ThePointe

    No Matthew you dont get to get away with that. Belief is NOT part indisputable evidence. You can believe whatever you want, but you can not overturn the call on the field based on those replays period. Until someone says they can definitely see the ball touching the ground, and provide video proof, that was a terrible call. So SICK and tired of people defending the NFL when they f things up like this.

  • deuce_seven

    The rule that the NFL is quoting says that possession must “survive initial contact with the ground”. Isn’t James’ left knee the initial contact? He makes the “football move” toward the endzone after he’s on the ground.

  • Bonney

    He Pulled the catch into his body before he turned and extended. Catch was complete. What happened on the ground doesn’t matter because it’s a TD as soon as that nose crosses the goal line.

  • SwagDaddy330

    Knee and elbow. Total BS.

  • ErikH

    Too soon

  • Kevin Artis

    They should go back and look at Grimble’s catch against the Bengals. Why was that ruled a touchdown?
    Even the refs don’t know what a catch is.

  • NCSteel

    Listen,

    This has happened now for a few years and what has the league done ? NOTHING !
    Arbitrary crap from the officials is OK with them.
    You want change ?
    BOYCOTT THE SUPER BOWL
    I am serious,
    If the Steelers are not there, then they were robbed and Steeler Nation should just refuse to watch and refuse to buy products of their advertisers this upcoming year ( don’t hurt our economy,
    just buy competitors products where you can ).
    Tire of the sitting on high and giving the thumbs up or down on what team lives and which team does not ? BOYCOTT !
    Steelers Nation is large and it’s the only thing that the NFL understands. We should all watch a replay of the 78 Steelers or something that night instead.
    I for one will boycott for sure and
    it will be the first one I miss in 44 years. Have some conviction, turn it off. Yes, Matthew, our team was robbed, robbed by arbitrary BS and an incomprehensible rule

  • NCSteel

    Right on brother !!!

    Righteous Indignation !!!
    No Steelers in the Super Bowl ?
    NO SUPER BOWL !!!
    NOT IN MY HOUSE !!!
    Support the Boycott !!!
    Have your party, but watch Steeler Highlights instead !!

  • Ryan Alderman

    “If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground,”

    As Phil posted, and in which I agree with, if indeed his knee touched the ground first, and at which point he clearly had the ball, why wouldn’t that count as “initial contact” with the lunge being the football move? It isn’t like he dove for the ball, caught in midair, hit the ground, and the ball popped out.

    And I disagree as well with the notion of the ball hitting the ground. Even though some may opine that ball hit the ground, by rule the video evidence must be INDISPUTABLE that it indeed did. Did you see an angle that showed that ball 100 percent hit the ground and that it did not simply roll with his hands underneath it? I know I didn’t. And since the call on the field was a TD, it should have been upheld.

    And these two points are playing within the parameters of the BS rule that has been at question time and time again.

  • NCSteel

    Amen Kevin !!!
    If it’s not applied evenly, it’s BS and we were robbed !
    The team, the city and the fans, how much money has the city just lost ???
    BOYCOTT !!!

  • #7

    Um…wrong. You don’t look smart or non biased by going against the grain here and saying the NFL “got it right.” You just look like a moron.

  • Ryan Alderman

    That’s right!

  • Joshua Adams

    What about the Texans vs. Pats game this year Brandon Cooks TD catch? That was ruled a catch.

  • Intense Camel

    There was NO irrefutable evidence. Regardless of this dumb rule there was NOT enough evidence to overturn a TD call in this situation. There is no clear shot of the ball on the ground at all.

  • MJK

    ball in control crossed line over, then hit ground when pushed down by defender, next play most import, replay
    clearly shows defender holding and pulling jersey definite flag! On james, hard news catch the ball and hold on first rule of football even at pee wee level take care of ball this goes to coahing fundamentals lacking, to much cheerleading tomlin, forget the refs we let this get away. ben owned it everyone else needs to own it with him, as a champion team would

  • Rob S.

    The rule was absolutely not applied correctly. in both the Bryant and Calvin Johnson cases you could definitively see the ball hit the ground and pop out. If you look at the still above (the point where it is assumed the ball hit the ground) there is no part of the ball that is visually touching the ground. In fact, it appears at least some of his right hand is underneath the ball. Replay was not created to overturn calls on assumptions. It calls for definitive visual evidence and that is not on display.

  • #7

    Mike Periera is on Dan Patrick trying to explain this nonsense. He sounds like a moron too. They’re laughing at him. Anyone trying to defend this sounds like a moron.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    I posted this in your other thread Matthew and since I can now tell definitely that you think they applied it right maybe you can give me some answers. I am just going to quote my post from your other article:

    “Here is where I run into the issue Matthew: This is the relevant wording in the catch rule for when a player is going to the ground:

    “If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground,”

    For me the key word is “initial” and how they define it. It is very clear in the clip of the catch that James has the ball and pulls it into his chest while his knee and shin are touching the ground. That certainly seems to cover the ‘initial’ part covered in the ruling. He then goes on to sort of lunge and reach out to score and when he hits the ball bobbles.

    So for anyone who agrees they applied the rule correctly I would like to know why his knee being down didn’t count as initial contact. I don’t see in the rule where it says your upper body has to touch first or anything like that. There is also no clock on amount of time you have to demonstrate control. I gave this example yesterday and will give it again today.

    Lets say that same exact thing happens but instead of James reaching out after he pulls it in he lays there for a split second and then does the same thing. Would that have been long enough control and if so why? Because of the split second or because more of his body was touching the ground creating ‘initial’ contact? I have talked to a few people who say this rule is very clear and that it wasn’t a catch but none of them have answered these questions I have.

    The other issue I have is how long the refs took to make the decision. The call on the field was a TD and you are supposed to have indisputable evidence to overturn it. The idea of indisputable should be something clear and quickly identifiable and that flat out wasn’t the case last night. It gives you the impression that the refs went looking for a reason to overturn the call.

    There are 3 or 4 big plays or sequences that cost us this game as well as the penalty but the penalty is the only one that makes you feel dirty about losing.”

  • #7

    Lol “survive the ground” What does that even mean? Anybody trying to defend this is a boob.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    “I find it hard to believe that anyone BELIEVES the ball did not touch the ground.” Those are your words and they are extremely poignant. I must say that it is likely that ball did touch the ground. The language the league uses for this, however, is ‘irrefutable evidence.’ There’s no 100% proof he didnt have his hands/fingers under the ball. And while it may be unlikely that he did, I certainly wouldn’t bet my life on it. I wouldn’t bet yours either Matt. Lol. If we’re going to go strictly by the rulebook for the catch, we should do the same for the booth review. Otherwise, why have the damn things written down. The language used by you, yourself in defending the call only goes to further prove that the call on the field should have been upheld.

    All that aside, this rule has sucked since day 1 and it has needed revisesd for years. I couldn’t agree with you more on that. It is subjective, lacks clarity and reduces the quality of the product in the field.

  • Chris92021

    The tuck rule only existed in the NFL and finally got written out. This stupid catch rule that even smart people don’t understand needs to go. Having said that, I still feel like Jesse catch the ball and made two football moves (tucking it close to his torso and then extending it over the goal line) but my opinion on matter is irrelevant. Stuff like this will make hardcores like me walk away from the game. Not tomorrow or next week but sooner than later.

  • NCSteel

    There you go again !

    I have not seen it but OK, I’ll believe you. So thereit is again, unevenly applied so its A BS robbery I don’t care what silly slant you put on it.
    BOYCOTT !!!
    Shout it everywhere Steeler Nation can hear it !!!
    NO STEELERS ?
    NO WATCH !!!!
    They only care about their dollars and covering their own backs, not your team or your friends team or whoever’s team…
    BOYCOTT till they feel it

  • NCSteel

    Including right here at Steelers Depot !
    Right on !!!
    Join the boycott.

  • EdJHJr

    so the issue now is they may end up playing the ravens again

  • NCSteel

    Good gracious, great post, you nail right there in your last sentence.

  • Nathanael Dory

    I do not agree with you at all. There were cases 10 times more outrageous than that and the call did stand.

  • DirtDawg1964

    Yes, a 100x yes! In the Oakland game there was a similar play. Absolutely clear evidence the ball was bobbled and touched the ground. Call was a catch. And it was not overturned.

    There was not clear and irrefutable evidence. Yes, we may believe the ball hit the ground but show me the replay where it is clear James wasn’t still in control when that happened. And let’s not forget you actually are allowed to use the ground as long as you’re in control.

    No, I will not accept it was a correct application of the rule because the rule in question is the replay rule. It was not applied correctly. And if it was, then they made a glaring mistake in Oakland. If they want to defend their call there, then they made a glaring mistake in Pittsburgh.

  • Todd Bowers

    I disagree… Had that catch been made in the endzone = no catch. Had it been made in the field of play and he was reaching for a first down = no catch. The fact that he caught the ball in the field of play, survived his knees hitting the ground then reaching across the goalline = Catch + Touchdown as soon as it breaks the plane. Nothing matters after it breaks the plane. Absolutely terrible call.

  • MP34

    I have to agree, belief isn’t evidence.

  • stan

    Bull. The catch was completed before he attempted to put it in the end zone. Not only that, but James’ right hand is under the ball even as it jiggles, so its still a catch. The replay official took five minutes to talk himself into it not being a catch, and what do you know, the Patriots got another huge break.

    Just compare it to the play at the end of the Packer game. If Allison had the ball and then fumbled, then James had the ball.

  • Rob S.

    Actually it’s the opposite. If they stay the two seed the Ravens will most likely be the six and would play the Patriots

  • Shawn Stone

    Fans saying Steelers were cheated out of a victory. They were cheated out of an opportunity to be victorious by Todd Haleys play calling again. Martavis Bryant was targeted 6 times. 6 TIMES??? He caught 4 of them and a couple were crap routes called. He was on a roll. Get him the ball!!!! Defensively??? Ohhh what a joke. Butler should be fired for letting Gronk again go uncovered over the middle of the field. Not to mention that single crap attempt to cover on Gronks endzone TD. Unabated. Not touched. No double team. Way to go Butler! Hell of a job.

  • Shawn Stone

    Players grade “B+” Coaches grade “D”

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I understand if James dove for the catch and the ball moves while hitting the ground, but he catches it knee down then lunges for the endzone, but it is what it is. We got a lot of work to do and we had opportunities to secure the game before then. I’m over it.

  • MP34

    I’m with you on Butler. You may not be able to stop Gronk, but you can slow him down. Why can’t we bracket him similar to the ways teams bracket AB? Granted, I get the height/size difference, but covered is covered. None of the other Pats receivers were scaring me last night, and could be covered by man coverage.

    I disagree (somewhat) on Haley. A 3 yard route on a 3rd and 4, with Eli Rodgers open in the right flat, was a hasty QB decision. Those two drives that resulted in punts, are split decision of blame between Ben and Haley.

  • Doug Sawyer

    the NFL applied the wrong call here…that’s the problem the moment he reached for the endzone after his knee was down he became a runner …in order to reach with the ball he had to have it in possession …at that point knee was down his elbow made contact with endzone ball over endzone TD

  • T3xassteelers

    If you watch that play, it’ll make you even more mad haha. Makes me furious to see cooks TD stand when James wasn’t. Pats are the NFLs darlings so the double standard only applies for them.

  • Ryan Alderman

    We had them on the ropes and couldn’t put them away, namely the critical three and out preceding the Pats taking the lead. That was disappointing, but still we should have won — we did win the game, and then the refs took it away from us.

  • Scott

    On First Take both Max and Steven A said it was a catch, that the refs got it right the first time and the rule was misinterpreted on replay.

  • Ryan Alderman

    I want to be over it, too. I wish it was that easy. I think it was such BS.

  • Maple Curtain

    Wrongo.

    The rule says “initial contact.”

    That is by the player, by the way, not the ball. He was already down on the one-yard line, as he had, wait for it, “gone to ground” to help secure the catch, his knee hip, etc. were on the ground.

    That was the initial contact.

    If he had been touched by the DB at that point, it would have been a catch, and his torso would never have hit the ground. He was mostly upright.

    Then, he made a football move: he lunged for the goal-line.

    By the letter of the law, it was a catch and TD.

    NFL cheating, or just plain stupid?

    All I know is that Goodell’s BS bureaucracy robbed the Steelers last night.

  • If replay is going to be used with super-slow motion and high definition TV that gives an artificial understanding of what happens on the field, the definitions need to be a clear as the TV picture. Two examples here.

    “Survive the ground” is not in the rule and adds an interpretation of what is actually written. James’ initial contact with the ground was his knee, not the elbow that jarred the ball loose. By rule, the catch was made with his “initial contact” with the ground [“he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground”]. The ball only came loose after his “football move” to cross the endzone.

    So was he a runner? By definition, yes. He made the choice to lunge for the end zone where he could have easily secured the catch short of the goal line, and arguably did anyway. His second foot was on the ground and he was capable of tucking the ball away when he clearly lunged to turn up field. This meets three of the criteria when he only has to meet two as the rule is written. [“A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps.”] There is nothing here about “two steps” or anything like that. If a lunge for more yards disqualifies a catch because it does not demonstrate the player is “clearly a runner”, they need to make that explicit. In basketball we know what a travel looks like (well except for the NBA where they don’t always call it – gotta get your dunks in). Two steps is two steps. If that’s what makes someone a runner, then state that then a lunge does not qualify.

    The “survive the ground” interpretation was one the league office and the officials used to explain the letter of the rule. And if you need to add criteria to a rule for it to make sense, it’s not just a bad rule, it’s poorly written and leaves room for unfair applications that happen outside of the field of play.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Oh, most definitely, but we’ve been getting screwed alot this year as far as refs is concerned, and I’m ready to move on.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    So i guess some other non-ground related force caused the ball to spin in his hand

  • John Noh

    Whatever happened to the idea that the “ground cannot cause a fumble”? If the receiver has demonstrated control, they should just apply this old rule and cut out the nonsense about completing a catch. It’s a terrible rule like the Tuck Rule was.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    That’s cool. I’ll still watch though. I don’t throw hissy fits when my team loses like a brat

  • Jeff Papiernik

    I’d bet my life on it

  • Greg Payne

    I think I understand it now. In order to officially “catch” a ball in the NFL the receiver simply has to bring the ball into his control fully, execute a football move, and then neatly wrap the pigskin in bubble wrap, hand write their home address on an approved shipping label, and place it carefully into Godell’s mailbox. Simple really.

  • Roger Wesley

    doesn’t rule say if the ball hit the ground. show me angle where it showed ball hit the ground it may have moved but his hand was underneath it. they f@#% this one up

  • Roger Wesley

    where did the ball hit the ground thats the rule. you can bobble the ball or have it move in middle of field doesn’t touch the ground still a catch, this should have been a t.d.

  • Roger Wesley

    most likely no video proof and thats replay is for

  • Todd Bowers

    I think the play was over before the ground even came into play… It was over when he CAUGHT the ball and then reached it over the goaline.

  • SwagDaddy330

    Do a google search – “Brandin Cooks touchdown catch” – and read the article from 9/26/17.

    Total BS

  • ThePointe

    Absolutely. His hand underneath the ball which contacted the ground caused the ball to spin. It never touched the ground, and you nor anyone else can prove it did with indisputable video evidence, so the CALL ON THE FIELD is supposed to stand.

  • Michael Conrad

    Stop complaining about the play. The real problem is I think someone in NFL headquarters looked at it and saw his left hand was off the ball with his fingers in the air the back of his hand was touching the ball and they felt the other hand was not far enough under it to say he kept the ball from the ground so they figured the ball more then likely touched the ground and it did move some.

    I also think they decided it was first down if it was third or fourth down they may have let the ruling on the field stand.

    The Steelers had three more chances.

    The bottom line is coaching. The fourth period coaching was terrible. They needed to pass on first down on the last series steelers had the ball. They needed to move the ball. The should have opened it up.

    While the catch was under review they should have been getting play calls ready so everyone was on the same page.

    They should have taken Davis off of Gronk. They should realize by now Mike Mitchell stinks. A good Safety would have been in position on a couple of the passes. Mitchell is always 10 yards away on every play.

    Bottom line is they played well but the little things tripped them up. Backup receivers , No running back other then Bell. Having Turtle FT on kickoffs.

    I have said all along they needed a bye and at least the second seed.

    They need to get Haden back and I hope Brown and maybe TE McI’mhurtagain can last a whole game cause James is a waste I think Gilbert will be back.

    NE will get tested in the first game from any of the teams in the playoff picture. Jag, KC or Ravens.

    Poor coaching took 10 years to figure out sometimes you have to play man.

    Next years draft has to be TE and Safety and ILB.

    I was so happy to see Shazier at the game. It was a great game and the Steelers showed they can hang with NE.

    A change of pace running back.

  • mhurk

    It is the NFL’s new “Patriot Rule”. What is the “Patriot Rule” ? You might ask. Nobody knows! and its only a rule when playing against the Patriots.

  • mhurk

    Actually His right foot touches before the knee He established possession makes a move, crosses the goal Touchdown. Booth reverses it. Patriot rule. The league is a joke, why even put officials on the field?

  • disqussant_steel

    Thank you for blocking my comment. Analysis confirmed, decision made.

  • Alan Bonin

    First, he had already made contact with the ground. Jesse’s knee was down when he caught the pass; it means he caught it. The player then makes a football move and lunges toward the endzone. The moment the ball touched the goal line it was a touch down

  • Alan Bonin

    Exaclty!

  • Mechanix

    Kudos to the Steelers and guys like Matthew who are being bigger people instead of whining about this issue. They are better than guys like me who are still trying to cope.

  • Carl Mendelius

    The plane of the end zone is special, the rules must be different when a player tries to break the plane. Once you break the plane with the ball controlled, it is a TD and doesn’t matter what happens next. Applies to runners and should apply to receivers and any other player. This is consistency of the rules at the end zones plane for all players. The rest of the field is not special, the rules are good the way they are.

  • falconsaftey43

    “initial contact with the ground” is the entire process of falling down. The “initial” part is about then a defender coming in or if the player attempts to get up and falls again. This definition is per president, as the rule book does not actually define “initial contact” but that is how it has always been officiated.

    There is nothing about a “football move” in the rule. “A players is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner.”

  • falconsaftey43

    He was “going to the ground” so the catch is not complete until he finishes “going to the ground.” He didn’t maintain possession through that process, so it’s not a catch. Play doesn’t end when the ball crosses the goal line if the act of catching the ball is not yet complete.

  • falconsaftey43

    Section 2 Article 1 Note 2: If a player attempts to catch a pass, the ball is not dead, and a touchdown is not scored, until the receiver completes the catch. See 3-2-7.

    3-2-7: A player who goes to the ground in the process of attempting to secure possession of a loose ball (with or without contact by an opponent) must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact* with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, it is a catch, interception, or recovery. 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.

    *”initial contact” is not defined anywhere in the rule book.

  • falconsaftey43

    “initial contact” is not defined in the rule book anywhere. Therefore it’s up for interpretation. It has been pretty consistently (as much as that happens in the NFL) officiated that this is the entire process of falling down. (If you think about it, if a guy is falling down but his foot touches the ground first and that was considered “initial contact” there would be no reason for a “going to the ground” rule because so long as you possessed the ball when any part of your body touched the ground, it would be a catch. Therefore, by the mere existence of the rule, you can determine that “initial contact” is no just the first part of the body to hit the ground, but rather up until the player has established control of themselves and stopped “falling”).

    Your other question about had james sat there for a bit before lunging, yes that could be a catch. His “initial contact” with the ground would have been over. He had stopped his fall (presumably on his knees or even on his back) then made a separate act of lunging.

    The replay, I agree with you on. They get liberal with what they consider “indisputable visual evidence”

  • Matt

    Irrefutable Evidence. It was not irrefutable that JJ’s hands were NOT under the ball. This makes all this other discussion irrelevant. Listening to Peter King say it was officiated properly. Really? How is nobody talking about the fact that it needs to be irrefutable evidence? How are all the Talking Heads missing this key point? It doesn’t matter about falling to the ground if you really can’t tell whether the receiver’s hands are under the ball as it moves. If those hands are under the ball it doesn’t matter that it turned around!

  • falconsaftey43

    the problem is that the definition of a catch requires that he finish falling to the ground before it is considered a catch. If the ball hits the ground there at the end, it was not a catch. There was no possession of the ball. That part of the rule book is very clear.

  • pittfan

    The initial contact is the knee, right? If he was touched that would be the spot they would call him down. The elbow came down second. He had control of the ball as his knee hit the ground. He demonstrated control by directing it over the goal line. Once he crossed the plain it should have been a score. What am I missing?

  • Darth Blount 47

    I believe it was Bruce Arians who stated it pretty simply: “COMMON SENSE.”

    If you watched that play last night, and your COMMON SENSE doesn’t tell you that in the game of football, THAT WAS A CATCH, then no amount of arguing is going to make you come to that conclusion. You can make a thousand “rules” and legislate your way from football, to rugby, to soccer, to Connect Four. THAT isn’t, nor SHOULDN’T, be the “point” of “rules.”

    Tony Dungy summed it all up: “In flag football, high school football, college football, any place you play football EXCEPT the NFL, that’s a Touchdown.”

  • Darth Blount 47

    That’s actually an interesting point, what IS the point, truly, of even having officials on the field anymore? There could be a “tiered-light” system where play is stopped because the “all-knowing eye” has deemed a penalty and play must be stopped for application of the rule. Players could be responsible, say the Center, for correctly spotting the ball, and can be held responsible and penalized yet again, by the “all-knowing-eye” if they are deemed to be miss-spotting the ball. Heck, I’m actually not even sure we need human players anymore either. I think robots with jerseys would work out just fine.

  • falconsaftey43

    “initial contact” does not refer to one body part hitting the ground. Now follow me, because it’s not straight forward since the rule book doesn’t define “initial contact”.

    We know that it does not refer to a single body part hitting the ground because otherwise the rule would not be necessary. For instance, a player leaps in the air, grabs the ball and falls to the ground with both feet hitting the ground first. Here, his feet both hit, if “initial contact” was the first body part to hit, then it’s a catch. And that’d always hold. There would never be a case where a player caught the ball and lost control before “initial contact” unless he dropped it before hitting the ground at all. So that establishes that “initial contact” doesn’t mean first body part to hit the ground.

    Then it must mean the initial fall. i.e. if he catches it and falls to his knees, waits for minutes and falls the rest of the way over and drops it then, it’s a catch. Because the “initial contact” was to his knees. Then a separate fall during which the ball was dropped. In James case, it’s pretty much one fluid motion. Yes, we know he actively lunged for the endzone, but there was no pause, no stoppage of the initial fall before he lunged. It was one act.

    This is how the rule has been officiated in the past (mostly, we all know they mess up a ton). But it is really the only logical way to interpret it based on how it is written and the other rules that exist.

  • Darth Blount 47

    He is if he is deemed to be a “runner.”

  • Darth Blount 47

    Exactly. He was a “runner” at the point he already maintained clear control and made a “football move.”

    Worst case, and I spoke to a former ref (Not NFL mind you) on this: “He should have been declared a runner who fumbled.”

  • Phil Brenneman II

    The foot not being initial contact is understood and goes without saying but in any football play you are “down” when a knee or elbow hits the ground so why wouldn’t that count the same for the catch rule? Jesse James knee was down and he demonstrated control of the football with no bobble. Therefor he “fulfilled” that part of the rule of initial contact. He then even proceeds to make a football move and reach for the goal line. So I am still lost on where that fits or doesn’t fit their definition of the rule. How long was he supposed to wait before reaching out and trying to score?

    They just flat out got it wrong. Or I should say, the rule isn’t as clear as it should be if they are going to be making a game altering decision like that.

  • pittfan

    so the “problem” lies in the ambiguity of “initial contact”, right? I would think any body part other than the feet would constitute “initial contact” when “going to the ground” because we run on our feet. In the case of a sideline play where the feet touch in bounds (this establishes possession in the field of play), “initial contact” would be whatever other body part hits when he contacts the ground. If James had turtled up and got touched, the ball would be spotted where his knee hit.

  • falconsaftey43

    yeah, the ambiguity of “initial contact” is the biggest problem. The whole thing is dumb. It’d be so simple to fix it. Possession of ball, two feet down (or requisite body parts require for catch in bounds), continued possession for 0.XX seconds. With replay, that’s really easy to officiate. Removes all the non-sense of “going to the ground” and stuff.

  • falconsaftey43

    correct. Hence why everyone hates the rule, because it’s not defined. But I’m comfortable saying he didn’t maintain possession long enough to “clearly become a runner.” It was one fluid motion. However, they don’t define what a runner is. Would be so easy to just say he has to control it for 0.5 seconds or whatever. Then everyone could agree on what the heck happened.

  • falconsaftey43

    I do not believe they got it wrong (aside from video proof). The rule is full of ambiguity. What’s “initial contact”? What’s possession “long enough to clearly become a runner”? Heck, what’s a “runner” none are defined in the rule book. However, based on how the rule has been officiated in the past, it’s typically been “initial contact” = the entire fall to the ground until the player has stopped falling. Basically relying on past precedent to define those terms.

    It sucks, because they could just say he has to have possession for 0.50 seconds or something like that that is easy to define and measure on replay and we wouldn’t have any of this.

  • Todd Bowers

    So if the ball got knocked out of AB’s hand last year when he extended it over the goaline to beat the ravens it would not have been a touchdown because he did not complete the catch to the ground? If that is what we are saying then I will agree with their call. Otherwise he makes the catch and extends the ball… Touchdown once it breaks the plane.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I think Bruce Arians and his “Common sense” application says it best. “Does your common sense tell you that he caught the ball? Well, then he probably caught the damn ball.”

  • EdJHJr

    JUST FOR FUN. So lets say he catches the ball just about at the top of his helmet(which he did), moves the ball down to his waist while falling(which he did) and now lets say he somehow stops right there laying on his side. Then he repeatedly moves the ball 5 times from the helmet to his waist while not moving himself, and laying on his side. Then the sixth time he moves the ball above his head and across the goal line he also brings the ball down on the ground and lets is go.
    SO EVEN THOUGH HE CROSSED THE GOAL LINE WITH THE BALL 5 TIMES WHILE LAYING ON HIS SIDE THAT WOULD NOT BE A CATCH.
    I’M NOT ASKING , I’M SAYING SINCE HE WAS NOT MOVING (BUT THE BALL WAS) THAT IS CONSIDERED NO CATCH.
    So he did catch the ball at the top of his helmet brought it down to his waist ONCE then reached back out and up over his head -with the ball over the goal line and let it go. NO CATCH- SO IF HE DID THAT MOTION ONE HUNDRED TIMES ITS STILL NO CATCH.
    I know so HS graduates looking for work. maybe they can join the NFL and help them out with , walking, talking, normal stuff like that

  • Matt

    Amen. In more ways than one our society is letting technology overtake our ability to THINK and to use common sense. For example another way is how I know for a fact through experience in dealing with young people that they have no concept of north south east and west. Why would they when Google Maps lays it uall out for you?

  • Carl Mendelius

    I am not saying the rule was applied incorrectly, I am saying the rule has to be changed to be consistent with runners when they break the plane with the ball controlled. What matters next doesn’t matter. The players broke the plane with ball in his hands.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Oh my God, good call. “Direction Sense” in the youth, is like a foreign or bad word. It’s very strange what is happening to certain aspects of our society when it comes to things just like that. Cursive handwriting is another. I showed a 10-year old cursive writing the other day and it very well may have been in Mandarin Chinese.

  • stan

    the rule is an issue, but its not the real problem here. The issue here is that they applied the “going to the ground” stuff at all, because the catch was completed before the runner chose to go to the ground.

  • Matt

    LOL

  • Matt

    So true, so sad. And scary

  • Stephen

    It was a BS call, if that was Gronkowski that would be called a touchdown

  • Guillermo Garcia-Gomez

    Watch it again. Initial contact occurred well before he reached the ball out. Technically he survived the ground when his knee hit and he didn’t let go.

  • Don

    I think the league has kind of lost its thread on what exactly the purpose of replay reviews should be. I don’t think anyone has problems with a blatant mistake being corrected through replay, but when you have to slow things down and review it on a molecular level and it STILL isn’t obvious what occured, then on what grounds are you making a change? The process should be limited to reviewing 2-3 angles, give them 10 seconds max, and if it’s not instantly clear what the call should be, send it back to the field and play on. Replays definitely have a purpose, but I mean what are we doing here, people?

  • Don

    Not defending the rule because it’s BS, but the difference was that AB stayed on his feet. He turned into a “runner” in the NFL’s parlance.

    The point I’m not seeing get discussed is that a little bit of ball movement does NOT mean loss of control. Even as his left hand spun off the ball, it stayed pinned between his right hand and his left arm. That’s not a loss of control in from any reasonable sense. It’s the definition of control that has gotten out of hand. That and the true role of replay. Corrections of clear mistakes, yes. Splitting hairs and reviews at the molecular level? No. Please, no.

  • GravityWon

    Better yet throw an Olympics party and support our hockey team this winter.

  • GravityWon

    I’m going to have to look that play up. 3rd person who has noted it.

  • GravityWon

    Initial contact has always implied any part of body other than feet and hands. Otherwise it should be rephrased as “completely down”. Or how about “final contact”

  • GravityWon

    Is someone writing unpopular articles to increase comments?

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’m sure you would think the exact same thing if the Patriots lost the game in the same fashion.

  • Don

    The rules are changed every year, and honestly I don’t know that the principle of irrefutable evidence is still in place. But I agree that it SHOULD be. I mean, people aren’t watching football to see what the CSI team can make of some murky slow-motion video.

  • Matthew Marczi

    The only grain I’m going against is Steelers fandom. I’m pretty sure the rest of the NFL understands the ball hit the ground. You’re just angry.

  • Edjhjr

    I think ravens will beat new england

  • Matthew Marczi

    This was supposed to be a popular article, but apparently nobody understands that the article is actually about the rule itself, and not the play in question.

  • Matthew Marczi

    The runner was going to the ground while he was making the catch.

  • ThePointe

    Spare me your righteous indignation Matthew. Just in case you missed it the first time, it doesn’t matter what you belive and it doesn’t matter what I think. The only thing that matters is the video evidence.

  • Matthew Marczi

    This was kind of my point, which everybody, frustratingly, seems to be missing. It should have been a catch, but based on the rule as it currently is written, it wasn’t. Instead I just have everybody yelling at me.

  • Matthew Marczi

    James’ left hand was on top of the football, and it’s possible that a couple of the fingers on his right hand were under it. But the nose of the ball was on the ground. And the ball was rotating, meaning he didn’t have control of it. This is what makes it not a catch.

  • Matthew Marczi

    When a player catches a pass while already in the process of going to the ground, as was the case with James here, then the player has to maintain complete possession of the ball throughout the entire process of going to the ground. Had he been upright on his own two feet when he initially caught the ball, rather than diving to his left, it would have been a touchdown. It’s all very frustrating.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Did you curse? I don’t see any record of any comments made by you in three days, nor do I see any record of a comment being deleted.

  • Matthew Marczi

    And the video shows the ball on the ground. Which you probably would agree with if the Patriots lost because of it.

  • ThePointe

    It most certainly does not show anything if the sort. One can only speculate that the underneath of the ball is on the ground, because you can’t see it. The replay rule does not mention speculation. It says indisputable video evidence.

  • Matthew Marczi

    It’s abundantly clear we’re not going to agree on whether or not the video provides clear evidence on this. But the article was not about this play. It was about the rule. Yet almost nobody seems to want to talk about that.

  • GravityWon

    Too soon. People want indisputable evidence about all aspects of this play along with explanations regarding other similar plays with different decisions from the NFL.

  • ThePointe

    Probably because it the Monday following the game and emotions are still raw. I’m frustrated as well because everyone seems to want to point to this catch rule, which the primary component being the ball on the ground and yet no one, and I do mean no one can indisputably prove the ball hit the ground. Cheers Matthew!

  • Frank Martin

    NFL, GFY. (That doesn’t stand for Good For You.)

  • GravityWon

    My understanding is that the players as a group are very angry about it. The captains &coaches are saying the right things so there isn’t a complete meltdown from younger players.

    The true test about how they are coping will be how they perform against the Texans.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Even Mike Pereira said today he doesn’t see replay as good for the game at the moment. I’m not sure I agree wholesale, but clearly there are issues with the whole process, going as far back as the rules they have to try to enforce.

  • Most people understand the ball likely hit the ground. Most non-Steelers fans I’ve spoken to about it also think it is a misapplication of an intentionally vague rule that has directly impacted the outcome of too many games. Above and beyond the need for revision, most seem to think that it was a poor application of the letter of the rule as well, given that it is reasonable to consider turning and lunging for the end zone a “common act”, and his knee hitting the ground as initial contact, being that he would not have gone to the ground further were it not for the lunge. Frame-by-frame asinine catch definition which the NFL holds to aside, this should have been a catch followed by a fumble after the TD, which we know is not a fumble and it should have been game over. Unfortunately, we cannot say the refs interpreted to rule incorrectly, since the rule is so poorly written that these is no non-arbitrary way to judge whether it is correctly applied in any given situation.

  • WB Tarleton

    Why not go back to 20 years ago? Possession and two feet or a knee down=catch. Anything after that is a fumble (or TD in JJ’s case). The rules are WAY too convoluted and something as integral to football as a “catch” needs to pass the “eye test” to a common fan, like someone who just watches the Super Bowl.

    The outrage is because the common fan would see that as a catch every time. Even an expert like Romo did not question it for 3 minutes because it “looked” like a catch.

    Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

  • WB Tarleton

    ^^Bingo.^^

  • WB Tarleton

    You know what would make a great article this week? The history of the rule regarding a “catch” with a discussion of why the changes were made, etc.

    It’s not the replay system that is bad or taking so much time. It is interpretation of events that should be simple. One can see “possession and two feet/one knee down” in one look of the replay 99% of the time. It is deciding what and what not is a “football move” or determining how much the ball moved (it can hit the ground in a player’s hands, move a certain ambiguous amount, and STILL be a catch) that takes all of the time.

    They need to simplify and the rules when I was a kid were very simple. The “controversies” were usually over a receiver in the air, catching the ball, getting hit, and losing possession. Did his feet come down? If yes, fumble. If not, incomplete. You could review it in 30 seconds.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Haha. It comes with the territory. I mean, I know on many of my arguments today, I’m arguing for the sympathetic emotional side of the aisle. That doesn’t mean I don’t mean it or did it for the “clicks,” but I understand I’ll have the support.

    For me, I just don’t think the rule is as cut and dry as some might seem. Just like what FalconSaftey and I were saying in our back and forth, there seems to be some room for interpretation, and when interpretation happens, that means subjectivity, which is dangerous.

    For me, it hinges on was he a “runner,” and if he wasn’t, did he ever lose “possession” of the ball in order to justify the rule even being enforceable. Because I think what most on even the outside of Steeler Nation are saying, is that “common sense” and that “7-year old explanation sense” tells you that Jesse James CAUGHT the pass. Like, in the most basic sense, he was thrown a pigskin and his hands reached out and got that pigskin securely. What happens after that, after the lunge and goaline crossing and contacting the ground, is hard to say NULLIFIES that previous sequence of the most basic idea of “throw and catch.” It feels like satisfying a rule just for the sake of overcomplication.

    My nephew is in his 30’s and a DIEHARD Pats fan and I can copy and paste his exact words. But the gist is simple… “Man, you know I love the Patriots, but I don’t know how you guys had that call go against you. I was stunned. I was sure we lost. That was a catch.”

  • GravityWon

    Nothing missed. You hit it on the mark. I’m baffled that 20% of the posters don’t understand what the word initial means.

  • GravityWon

    2nd time this was posted. Any explanation about why it was removed when posted about an hour ago?

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    Every person who has ever played football at any level understands that that was a catch. The rule obviously sucks in its current form and fails to do what it was designed to(accurately define a catch). So the real question is, what is a better way to define a catch?! If you had to define it, what would your definition be? Everyone feel free to answer.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    I think that a catch should be defined as having clear and continuous control of the ball(no bobbling) with 2 feet or one other body part (knee, elbow etc..) in bounds. The ground cannot cause a fumble and should not be able to cause a loss of possession of a catch. If the player has already shown clear and continued control of the ball on the way to the ground and the ground causes the ball to then shift or pop out, it should remain a catch (this will be a fumble in some cases). Clear and continued control shall be defined as having entire possession of the football in such a manner so that the ball is entirely secure and steady(i.e.not moving in your hands).

  • Matthew Marczi

    This is the problem the NFL has, and it knows it has it. If it looks like a catch, and it smells like a catch, then continually telling people it’s not a catch is going to turn them away. If they don’t revisit the rule and seriously fix it this time, it could develop into a serious problem, rather than just a minor annoyance.

  • Chad Weiss

    My issue is more that same replay official was the one to decide all three plays giving Pat’s three wins this year w absolutely no consistency. Did they make the right call ? I don’t know because they aren’t consistently making same rulings on replays of all things. The only thing consistently happening this year is the pats were handed three games they other wise would have lost by replays that weren’t called consistently by the same damn dude. Am I saying pats are cheating and ruining integrity of game no I can’t imagine them ever doing that.. Time to give this replay official a polygraph test or stop letting him be replay official of pats games. I sure the hell hope he isn’t the replay official if we meet again.

  • NCSteel

    I take offense.
    Without showing your disdain for a rule only your lawyer can unravel by hurting the bottom line. Nothing changes.

  • NCSteel

    Whatever gets to their bottom line works for me.
    I’m not saying they purposefully jobbed the Steelers. It’s just that it’s reached a point where you’re not allowed to believe your own eyes until what you saw is interpretted for you.
    Boycott cause this has been happening to other teams besides the Steelers and no one from the NFL has done anything.