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The Redzone: The refs were right on Dez Bryant call, it's the rules that are wrong

But it’s the NFL, not the officials, who have questions to answer after the Dez Bryant ‘catch’.
Jan 12th 2015, 7:00 AM 4,742 3

TO ERR IS human. To have a rule where a player can take three steps with the football secured in his arm and be considered to have not completed a catch is the NFL.

For the second week in a row, a brilliant playoff game involving the Cowboys has been overshadowed by a controversial refereeing decision. Last week, of course, it was Dallas that benefited from the officiating crew’s decision to reverse a penalty despite making the correct call initially.

This week, as you can see above, it looked as if the Cowboys would score a late go-ahead touchdown against Green Bay in Lambeau Field after Dez Bryant made a stunning play on fourth down with a remarkable catch with just over four and a half minutes to play.

However, on review, the catch was overturned with NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino explaining why:

Of course, that wasn’t a good enough explanation for some with current and future NFL players bemused by the decision to call it an incomplete pass.

However, the key part of Blandino’s tweet are the words ‘by rule’ which means the referees actually made a great call and credit to them for doing so.

It’s just the rule that’s terrible.

The particular rule – known by some as the Calvin Johnson rule – comes from a 2010 game between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears when Megatron looked to have caught a crucial touchdown having clear possession off the football in the endzone.

However, he also touched the ball off the ground:

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Source: WolfmanBleedsJD/YouTube

Before the start of the following season, the league used this play to define what did and did not constitute a catch.

“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 after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.”

The problem is, even with that ruling, it remains unclear to most people watching the game on a weekly basis what actually constitutes a catch. As I said last night – after seeing almost my entire Twitter timeline exclaim ‘what a catch’ on first viewing – what is and isn’t a catch makes no sense.

Bryant clearly took three steps and went to the ground untouched before the ball bobbled but, ultimately he did regain possession. If the laws of the game say that’s an incomplete pass then – in the words of Mr. Bumble in ‘Oliver Twist’ – the law’s an ass.

And don’t get me started on ‘oh the Cowboys deserved it for what happened last week’. Two wrongs don’t make a right. The Lions are out of the playoffs because of some poor officiating and Dallas are out because of some poor rule-making.

That’s no way for any team to end their interest for the year.

Along with what is or is not pass interference – and why it’s called differently in the playoffs – this is one rule the NFL has to look at the offseason. Lets just hope it doesn’t come into play again over the remaining three games of the season.

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Steve O'Rourke


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