Mention the names Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Zach Miller and Jesse James, and what looked, sounded and felt like a catch wasn't one. NFL owners approved a proposal Tuesday from the powerful competition committee to make those them receptions in the future.
In simplifying the language of the rule, as recommended by the competition committee, the new standards require three elements:
- having control of the ball;
- getting two feet down or another body part;
- making a football move: taking a third step or extending the ball or something similar.
Committee chairman Rich McKay and league officiating director Al Riveron said ahead of the meeting that it was time for the rule change, after years of controversy and confusion.
"We want to take these great catches and make them into catches," Riveron said Monday at the NFL meetings.
Such phrases as "slight movement of the ball" and "surviving the ground" will disappear, and fans, players and coaches will get the fulfillment of knowing what they were sure was a reception actually is.
The committee looked at dozens of plays dozens of times. They discovered that the previous attempts to clarify what is a catch only confused the issue. So much so that the language of the rules was getting in the way of making the proper call.
"Every time, we tried to add language to cure a situation," said McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons "and that did not serve us well.
"We felt like the word slight was getting people caught up. It's really loss of control. If you lose control of the ball, then you haven't satisfied (the process). If you have movement of the ball but haven't lost control of it, then you still have it."
Added Riveron: "If we see total loss of control, that's the way we're going to rule it. But we understand there are situations where the ball is going to move. We have to see loss of control."
McKay pointed to touchdown receptions by Alshon Jeffery and Corey Clement in the Super Bowl. In both cases, the ball moved a bit in the receiver's hands. In both cases, though, on-field officials, then Riveron handling the video review, determined there was possession throughout.
"Those are catches," he said, noting that under current language in the rules, "the ground trumped everything. It didn't make a lot of sense."
The committee examined plays back to the 1990s and early 2000s, including a pass to the Jets' Wayne Chrebet in which McKay said the film was "so grainy you could barely make it out." He mentioned Bert Emanuel's non-reception in the 1999 NFC title game when the tip of the ball touched the ground even though Emanuel had it in his clutches.
The major emphasis on re-examining the rule stems from Bryant's non-catch in a playoff game at Green Bay. Reconstructing that play through video, Riveron explained how the proposed change will seize logic — in other words, make what should have been a catch into a real catch.
"I think the Dez Bryant was the start of us realizing something needs to change," McKay said.
Each year, there have been similar examples that made everyone from the guys throwing the ball to the coaches on the sideline to the fans in the stands and on their mobile devices wondering what was going on. When James' apparent winning touchdown reception against New England was overturned even though the Steelers tight end made a football move to extend the ball over the goal line, it prompted Commissioner Roger Goodell to forcefully endorse seeking adjustments to the rule.
Gone, Riveron emphatically said, is surviving the ground.
"That's out," he said. "No mas."
There will, however, be more emphasis on the on-field officiating calls. McKay reminded that game officials overwhelmingly get the calls correct at full speed.
"The rule is a lot cleaner, so the answer is yes," Riveron said, adding that game officials were consulted as the committee worked on the language of the proposal.
Of course, with more catches, there could be more fumbles as receivers try to extend plays and get extra yardage. Riveron has no problem with that.
"If we end up with 10 more fumbles but five of the most exciting plays of the year," McKay said, "it's a trade we'd make any day."
Notes: No proposals were made nor votes taken regarding the national anthem before games. The owners did focus on implementing the social justice platform with the players and unanimously approved a local matching funds program. Each of the teams will match fundraising proceeds of the players and teams and its players will work together to determine where to allocate the funds in a local market. The anthem discussions will resume and be a main focus of May's meeting in Atlanta.