We are trained now to know that a ball caught in the end zone must be maintained through the completion of the play to be ruled a touchdown, even after the receiver goes down to the ground. We've known this since Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson had a touchdown taken away against Chicago in 2010 even though it appeared to everyone that Johnson caught the ball and scored.
The rule seemed odd, but we learned to live with it and we haven't been as surprised when that rule has been invoked since then. But the rules should at least be enforced in a logical order, which is what makes Chargers receiver Danario Alexander's late touchdown against the Broncos so perplexing.
Alexander made a great catch, turned and lunged into the end zone. It was ruled a touchdown. Then the replay was shown. Alexander lost control of the ball when it touched the ground, but he regrouped very quickly and scooped it up, so the official on the spot didn't see it happen. As a scoring play, it was reviewed.
Now let's read the rule, shall we? It's Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1:
Player Going to the Ground. 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 throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.
Thanks to Calvin Johnson, we all know this. The announcers on the Chargers-Broncos game knew it. They agreed, without much debate, that Alexander's touchdown wouldn't stand once the replay verdict came back. Jim Daopoulos, a former NFL official and supervisor of officials, agreed on Twitter that it shouldn't be a touchdown.
Then it was called a touchdown. Why? The referee explained that Alexander crossed the plane of the goal line, and that was that. Apparently nothing that happened after that -- even Alexander not maintaining control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground -- mattered.
Are you following this? Johnson caught the ball in the end zone, which, last we checked, is past the plane of the goal line. His catch didn't count, although he had control much longer than Alexander. Check out Johnson's again:
Does that play look different than Alexander's touchdown? If anything, the eye test says Johnson's catch was more legitimate than Alexander's, considering Johnson's entire body landed on the ground (past the plane of the goal line), and he only lost the ball when he was getting up.
Alexander had the good fortune of catching the ball at about the 3-yard line instead of inside the end zone. Apparently, had he caught the ball in the end zone, his catch wouldn't have counted. He caught the ball a few yards short of the end zone, so it was a touchdown.
The NFL rule book is large, and there are obscure rules in there we don't fully understand. But we have a right for the rules to follow some logical order.
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