In what was shaping up to be one of the best NFL games of the year, the refs, in what has become a common theme this season, crapped themselves at the worst possible moment. The application of the asinine catch rules at the end of the Steelers-Patriots game potentially just swayed the home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
In no way am I a Pittsburgh fan, but what kind of a crap ass call was that? On first and goal with 34 seconds left in the game, and with the Steelers trailing 27-24, Ben Roethlisberger made a nice throw to his tight end Jesse James, who received the ball, possessed it with two hands, and had both feet and his knee make contact with the ground. As he was falling to the ground, he stretched the ball out and broke the plane. Why the hell isn’t the play over at that point? Because of the worst, dumbest, contrary-to-everything-we’ve-ever-been-told-and-watched-growing-up rules about what a catch is. As James made contact with the ground, the ball was jarred loose slightly, causing him to lose control of the ball for a fraction of a second. After initially being called a touchdown on the field, the officials went to the replay booth and overturned the call, instead ruling it an incompletion. Why? Because apparently, for it to be a reception in the NFL, you have to possess the football, tuck it away, take 47 steps, do five barrel rolls on the ground, take the ball home, make love to it, and then let it meet your mother and father.
Sure, Pittsburgh made their share of mistakes. They let New England score 11 straight points in a 3 minute span, and they had no answer for Rob Gronkowski all day. And Big Ben made one of the worst throws of the season on their last offensive play when he tried to force the ball into triple coverage, which led to the game-ending interception. But at the end of the game, they made the plays to win the game. Ju Ju Smith-Schuster’s 69 yard catch and run got them inside the ten, and then they followed it up by having James CATCH THE BALL AND BREAK THE PLANE WITH IT.
We’ve seen this dumb rule time and time and time and time again cost teams games late. Remember the Calvin Johnson “catch” that got waved off at the end of a regular season game a few years ago? Or the Dez Bryant “catch” that was overturned? You know, the one that cost the Cowboys a playoff game? How were neither of these catches? We have eyes, we can see what’s possession and what isn’t. Why add the extra “complete the process of the catch” language? It’s completely unnecessary.
And here’s the other thing; why was this Geronimo Allison reception from today, where he took two steps and had the ball knocked out, ruled a catch, but James’s wasn’t? In one instance, a player caused the ball to be jarred loose, while in James’s case, the ground did. So it’s ok for a person to knock the ball out after two steps, but not the ground? How does that make any sense?
And how about this; if I’m a runner, the play is over if I cross into the end zone with the ball. But if someone swiped the pigskin out half a second after I broke the plane, they wouldn’t call it a fumble. So why doesn’t the same thing apply to receivers? Why isn’t it a touchdown if I cross the plane with two feet down and possession of the football? Why do I need to survive the ground? Again, how does that make any sense?
The NFL has a lot of issues right now; anthem protests, terrible officiating, an inept commissioner, declining ratings, and a salary cap structure that incentivizes teams to dump average veteran players in favor of younger, cheaper guys, which has helped to significantly drop the level of play on the field the last decade. With all of this going on, the league really can’t also afford to be challenging our intelligence as well at the same time.
So here’s a simple rule change: to make a catch, all you need to do is possess the football and have either both feet or one knee or an equivalent body part down in bounds. That’s it. It’s really not that difficult.