Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

NFL catch rule isn't complicated

Alex Reimer
December 18, 2017 - 9:40 am

The NFL catch rule is too stringent. It is lame when games are decided by replay review. 

But there’s nothing complicated about it. Steelers tight end Jesse James did not maintain control of the football until he hit the ground Sunday in the Patriots’ incredible 27-24 win. The rulebook explains it pretty clearly. 

“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, whether in the field of play or the end zone,” it says. “If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete.”

James should have secured the football while he was falling towards the ground. But instead, he tried to extend his arms to the end zone. In the process, the ball started to juggle out of his hands. As we saw with Dez Bryant in the 2015 Divisional Round, the receiver must keep possession all the way through. Every football fan knows about the rule. The caterwauling you will hear today is disingenuous. 

In those situations, the player’s foremost responsibility is keeping the ball under control. If James fell to the ground and wrapped up his arms around the football, the Steelers would have run their next play at the one-yard line. There’s little doubt they would have scored and won the game –– barring an ill-conceived slant pass from Ben Roethlisberger to an army of Patriots defenders. 

Pittsburgh lost the game because of horrendous late-game management. The referees did their job. 

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