Doug Farrar

Did the Texans get caught in the Calvin Johnson rule?

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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When Houston Texans running back Arian Foster(notes) had a touchdown catch overturned late in the first half of an eventual 29-23 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the thoughts of everyone who saw the play as it happened or later as a highlight must have turned immediately to the "Calvin Johnson rule," which denied the Detroit Lions' receiver a potential game-winning touchdown in a Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears.

The rule states that any receiver who has the ball come out of his hands, even after he's gone to the ground, before committing a "second act" and moving the ball forward, has not caught the ball. The general consensus? Good call, bad rule. And so it seemed to be for Foster, on this apparent non-catch:

For Mike Carey's officiating crew, there was no difference between this play and the one which disallowed the Calvin Johnson(notes) touchdown. Carey said that because the ball came out of Foster's hand immediately when his hand hit the ground, it was incomplete. But Mike Pereira, the former NFL VP of Officiating who now analyzes the refs he used to administrate, disagreed with Carey's interpretation.

If the receiver is going to the ground but reaches out with the ball in an attempt to gain more yardage, he is deemed to have completed the catch and the ruling then becomes either a touchdown -- if the end zone is involved -- or a catch and down-by-contact in the field of play provided he had been touched by an opponent. If not, it would be catch and fumble.

This is what happened last year in the Super Bowl when Lance Moore(notes) reached out to break the plane. This is not what happened in the Calvin Johnson play earlier this season when the ball hit the ground and came loose as part of the process of completing the catch.

In my opinion, the ruling of touchdown should not have been reversed and this call seemed to change the complexion of the game.

So, if Pereira is to be believed, this example here was both a bad call, and a bad rule.

The real issue is that Carey and Pereira are referring to the same rule book and seeing different things. Carey goes to the ball falling from Foster's hand right when it hit the ground, while Pereira's addition of the "football move" proviso would seem to be correct -- after all, if you take 10 steps in the end zone after a successful reception and then drop the ball when your hand hits the ground, there's no way that isn't a completion.

If Carey doesn't know or fails to understand the issue of what constitutes a football move, even after multiple minutes of replay ... well, Houston, we have a problem.

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