Hideous 'ground' rule needs to be altered

·NFL columnist

In a perfect world, we could start an NFL season without having to endure this mess. You were just getting over the "tuck rule," and you had learned to live with the "lunging at a quarterback" infraction. Now the league gives you this: "Going to the ground" – a rule seemingly ripped from the pages of a clown college syllabus.

The league's nonsensical end zone rule once again made a mockery of NFL fans on Sunday, effectively telling them, "trust us, not your own eyes." This time it overturned what appeared to be a marvelous 25-yard touchdown catch by Detroit Lions wideout Calvin Johnson(notes). In what could have been a game-winning play, Johnson leapt into the air with 26 seconds remaining, clamped onto the ball with both hands, came down into the end zone with both feet and palmed the ball like a grapefruit as he fell to the ground. In fact, by the time the ball came out of Johnson's hand almost a full second after his catch, he had touched both feet, his left knee, his rear end, and even planted his left hand into pay dirt for good measure.

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) was ruled unable to maintain possession of the ball in the end zone.
(Mike DiNovo/US Presswire)

In any sane game, it was a touchdown, and Detroit should have been ahead in the waning moments. But because of this week's biggest loser – the NFL's ridiculous rule book – it wasn't as Detroit opened the season with a 19-14 loss to the Bears.

Of course, there is no blaming the referees. They interpreted the rule the way they have been told – reflecting that as Johnson went to the ground, the ball came out of his hand before he had a chance to commit a "second act." Never mind that nearly a full second had passed from the catch, and that in that time, every part of Johnson's anatomy was imprinted on the end zone turf.

The best part of all of this: the Fox broadcast did a live interview with the league's former head of officiating, Mike Pereira, while Johnson's touchdown was under review. As the decision dragged out, even Pereira seemed to hedge and stumble while defining the "second act." Cartwheel, maybe? Dinner and a movie?

In the past 12 months, the league has had multiple controversies concerning the "going to the ground" ruling, and it has appeared to contradict itself on a handful of occasions while defining the "second act." Even Pereira seemed frustrated with it in an interview with the NFL Network in September of 2009.

"I really feel bad about this," Pereira said. "I mean, this has gotten to be so convoluted, this whole act of catching a pass when you're going to the ground, that it's very difficult for people to grasp what is a catch and what isn't a catch."

That's right, it has gotten convoluted. The truth is determining the "second act" is totally subjective. So why not do the right thing and simplify the league's rule book? If a player comes down in the end zone or field of play and touches one or multiple parts of his body to the ground, it should constitute as possession. Do the right thing, and make the next "second act" the one that matters – restoring some sanity to the officiating.

Now on to this week's other winners and losers …


Chris Johnson rushed for a 56-yard touchdown run against the Raiders.
(Kirby Lee/US Presswire)

Tennessee Titans
Yes, it was the Oakland Raiders. But how can you not love what you saw from the Titans? Vince Young(notes) carried over last season's late development, and Chris Johnson remains the most exciting player in the NFL. And that healthy defense looks like it might be a unit to be reckoned with – regardless of whether Albert Haynesworth(notes) is brought back into the fold.

New York Giants wideout Hakeem Nicks(notes)
The Carolina Panthers should have paid more attention to him in the red zone. All the offseason talk about Nicks being ready to bust out is legit. No offense to Steve Smith and Mario Manningham(notes), but Nicks is longer and faster, and will be Eli Manning's(notes) primary playmaker all season.

Pittsburgh Steelers
The win over the Atlanta Falcons was ghastly, but this is the reality of what life will be like without Ben Roethlisberger(notes). And Steelers fans should realize the Falcons are going to be a playoff-caliber team. If the Steelers can go 2-2 in the tough opening slate without Roethlisberger, they'll have dodged a bullet.

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler(notes)
It wasn't always pretty, and say what you want about the 89-yard screen pass, but Cutler's 372-yard, two-touchdown effort was an encouraging start. Yes, it was at the expense of Detroit, but miscue's by Cutler's supporting cast kept his numbers from being even better. If the Bears can keep Cutler healthy (a monumental if), the offense will find a groove in the red zone, too.

Houston Texans running back Arian Foster(notes)
He's big and is going to take a lot of hard hits, but how in the world was this guy not drafted coming out of the University of Tennessee, especially after rushing for 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior? More than any other player this week, Foster lived up to the offseason hype about a potential breakout season.

New England Patriots
Remember when the Patriots were supposedly heading into a backslide? So much for that. The Patriots beat up what should be the class of the AFC North. And while the Cincinnati Bengals didn't do themselves any favors with early mistakes, the Patriots defense is faster than expected.

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll
Talk about a guy who needed a start like this. After all the offseason negativity about USC and curiosity over his latest NFL stint, Carroll and the Seahawks pummeled a San Francisco team expected to be the class of the NFC West. No doubt, Carroll has the fire and personality to make it in the NFL. And if this is an example of how Seattle is responding to him, he is going to be a huge story all season.

Green Bay Packers
As expected, they showed they can roll up points on one of the league's best defenses. There is still work to do with Rodgers, who faced a fair amount of pressure, and the potential loss of Ryan Grant(notes) could be huge. But unless Grant is done for the season, this is a team that can survive for a few weeks without a top notch running game. Charles Woodson(notes) and that defense still looks brilliant, too.

Arizona Cardinals wideout Steve Breaston(notes)
The St. Louis Rams' secondary isn't anything special, but we can stop asking whether Breaston could step into the void left by Anquan Boldin(notes). Sunday's 132-yard effort will be one of many big games this season. He's a top notch No. 2 wideout, and I'm betting his overall numbers this year will be similar to what Boldin puts up as a No. 1 in Baltimore.


Eagles QB Kevin Kolb is sacked by Clay Matthews.
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

• Eagles coaching staff
How in the world Stewart Bradley(notes) and Kevin Kolb(notes) briefly got back into Sunday's game after clearly suffering concussions is beyond me. Not only did the Eagles lose a game that is an early barometer, but they showed poor judgment with a huge player safety concern. You can bet the league and NFL Players Association will be looking into this one.

Detroit Lions
It can't get much worse than Sunday. Not only did the Lions get robbed of a win by a ridiculous rule, they lost quarterback Matt Stafford to an injured throwing shoulder. And just when things appeared to be looking up, too. This is a tortured franchise, plain and simple.

Oakland Raiders
Wow. Where to begin? Well, start here: JaMarcus Russell(notes) wasn't this team's only problem. The offensive line is bad, the defense is slow up front and no matter how many press releases the Raiders want to send out to the media, mentioning Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes) in the same breath as other great Raiders receivers should be a crime.

• Panthers quarterback Matt Moore(notes)
The Giants defense is going to be very good, but Moore just looked lost too many times on Sunday. He throws too many risky balls into terrible spots. And everyone knows Jimmy Clausen(notes) is just waiting for his shot. Moore's time is already running out.

Indianapolis Colts
No need to worry about the running game when you trail 27-10 in the fourth quarter. I keep looking at that defense, and all I see is an aging Dwight Freeney(notes), a broke down Bob Sanders(notes), and few young impact players. That's food for thought for Peyton Manning(notes) when he signs his gazillion dollar extension.

• Falcons running back Michael Turner(notes)
He was supposed to have more explosion with his lighter weight and play a bigger role in the passing game. Neither of those things materialized against Pittsburgh. Granted, the Steelers defense is daunting, but Turner never looked close to breaking anything Sunday. It's hurting that offense more than anything else.

Cincinnati Bengals
The Patriots were supposed to be an immediate measuring stick. Instead, they became the stick that whipped Cincinnati for nearly three quarters. The Bengals aren't possibly as bad as they looked Sunday, but they made up a lot of ground when the Patriots relaxed with a big lead. The offensive line has to play better early in games. Sure would be nice if that Andre Smith(notes) pick started to pay off.

• Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme(notes)
He threw one of the worst interceptions we've seen from him in a long time, and that's not easy, considering last season's debacle. The running game and defense were fairly solid against a mediocre Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. But since the 2008 playoffs, Delhomme is good for at least one or two horrible mistakes every game. And frankly, the Browns are nowhere near good enough to overcome that reality.

• 49ers coach Mike Singletary
He had far too many questionable coaching decisions against Seattle. Then again, perhaps giving up some early points in a blowout loss wouldn't have mattered. Whatever the case, Singletary opened the door to question his game management, not to mention the motivation of a team that should have been far better defensively. If the 49ers don't bounce back next week, there are going to be a lot of concerns, chief among them being Singletary's backing of Alex Smith at quarterback.



The Broncos' Tim Tebow is tackled by the Jaguars' Tyson Alualu.
(Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Loved: Seeing Tim Tebow's(notes) first NFL snap less than two minutes into his rookie season, then seeing him line up at wideout seconds later. So much for having to wait years for Tebow to make contributions. He'll start in Denver before the season is over.

Loathed: Watching Carson Palmer(notes) play some of his most awful football in recent memory in the first half against the Patriots. The Bengals offense as a whole looked remarkably bad, considering the talent.

Loved: Watching Wes Welker(notes) take a bubble screen and score a touchdown on New England's first drive. He doesn't have all of his zip since recovering from knee surgery, but he's more important to Tom Brady(notes) as anyone on that offense, including Randy Moss(notes).

Loathed: Seeing the gruesome leg injury to Houston defensive end Connor Barwin(notes). The video is not for the faint of heart. It's a tough loss for a Texans defense that was hoping for a big step forward by Barwin this season.

Loved: Vince Young's 56-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington(notes) on a beautiful reverse rollout in the first quarter against Oakland. He threw the exact same pass at his pro day back in 2006 … for almost 70 yards.

Loathed: Seeing Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) get off to a bad start with the Giants. One fumble, one bobbled catch that turned into an interception. The window is far from closed for Brandon Jacobs(notes) in that backfield.

Loved: Watching Mohamed Massaquoi(notes) perfectly split Tampa's defense on a 41-yard touchdown in the first quarter. If Cleveland ever gets itself together, Massaquoi is going to be a star.

Loathed: Devin Aromashodu's(notes) dropped touchdown bomb from Jay Cutler in the first quarter against Detroit. Quietly, Aromashodu might have the best package of skills of all of Chicago's wideouts. But his inconsistency is maddening.

Loved: Jahvid Best(notes) running out of shotgun spread sets. Watch the highlight of his first NFL touchdown on Sunday; his quickness to the hole in that formation is frightening.

Loathed: Seeing Matthew Stafford(notes) take a wicked hit from Bears defensive end Julius Peppers(notes). Take Stafford away and Detroit is looking at 2-14 all over again.