Much consternation and some misunderstanding of NFL rules in the wake of the call in Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers game in Pittsburgh that denied the Steelers what would have been the go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute to play.
Setting aside for a moment that Brady simply would have hooked up with Gronk for another TD anyway and that these same two teams are likely to settle the issue in the AFC championship game, it is time the league updated some of its rules about what is or isn’t a catch and what is or isn’t a touchdown.
It appears the officials Sunday interpreted a poor rule correctly. Jesse James slightly and briefly, but clearly, lost control of the ball when he fell to the ground. By rule, that makes the play an incomplete pass. It really was a pretty easy call. The problem is, the call doesn’t pass the smell test or the fundamental fairness test. If the ball crossing the plane of the goal line in the hands of a running back is a touchdown, why isn’t the same true when it’s a receiver who has the ball?
So let’s fix a few rules so that what appears obvious to everyone watching at home matches what’s called on the field and let’s make it easier on those officials in the first place. Part of the problem is that the rules don’t take into account athletes who are bigger, faster, stronger and more agile than those of the past. Nobody a generation ago could make the famous Odell Beckham, Jr. one-handed catch, especially not while being tackled by the defensive back. Maybe Lynn Swann in Super Bowl X comes close. Yes, kids, the Super Bowl used to be played in January and in the daytime. The Bills used to be allowed to play in it.
— If a receiver has full control and possession of the ball at any time*, it’s a catch, regardless of what happens upon contact with the ground. John Madden told us for years the ground can’t cause a fumble, why can it cause an incomplete pass?
*except for the next example
— Adopt the college rule of one foot in bounds for a catch. It’s much easier for the officials than trying to determine if the big toe of the second foot dragged the line as the receiver fell out of bounds.
— Adopt the college rule that if a ball carrier touches the ground with anything other than his feet or hands, he is down, whether there is contact or not. This will stop the “receiver or interceptor gets up off the ground and tries to keep going” play. It will also reduce the potential for injury when players aren’t clear whether the ball is dead.
— End the “breaking the plane” rule. In the long jump, the part of the jumper’s body that lands closest to the point of take off is what’s measured. Let’s do that in football. If the runner’s knee goes down at the one, he’s down at the one, regardless of whether he reaches out for the goal line with the football. This will make it easier on the field and replay officials than trying to determine whether the nose of the football touched the goal line an instant before or an instant after the runner went down. It will also end the incentive for every player near a corner pylon to try to reach out with the ball and break the plane while 90 percent of his body is hurtling out of bounds.
— End the “there must be clear evidence to overturn a call” rule on replays. The point of replay is to get the call right. So get the call right. It shouldn’t matter what the call was on the field. In a related note, get rid of the ref going under the hood. Make the call at headquarters and radio it down.
— Clarify the difference between an incomplete pass and a QB fumble. Let us not forget the play that launched the Brady-Belichick dynasty in New England, the ridiculous “tuck rule,” that says if a QB wakes up in the morning thinking about throwing a pass, then drops the ball seven hours later, it’s incomplete. The rule should be that the QB’s throwing hand must be moving forward in a deliberate, intentional passing motion when the ball comes out, or it’s a fumble. Refs should be taught not to fall for the “quick flick of the wrist to make it look like I was throwing” motion that QBs employ when the ball is knocked out.
— Get rid of “throwing the ball away.” Why is throwing the ball into the bench any less intentional grounding than throwing it to a nearby patch of grass? Intentional grounding should be any pass that, in the officials’ opinion, was thrown simply to avoid taking a sack. And by the way, I thought a tackle box was a fishing thing, not something you have to be in or out of to throw the ball to your coach.
— Either back kickoffs up so they can be returned or get rid of them. Unless you have to pee, the dumbest thing in football is a two and a half minute commercial break, back for the kickoff through the end zone, then another two and a half minute break.
— Somebody sign Colin Kaepernick. Rights really aren’t worth anything if you can’t actually exercise them.
Now, about that Republican tax “cut.”