John Harbaugh explains decision to throw key challenge flag

Mike Florio
·2 min read

The decision to turn an incompletion into an interception created plenty of confusion and consternation in Indianapolis on Sunday, with the man who threw the pass proclaiming that “[n]obody that’s played any amount of football or been around the game watched that and thought it was a catch, including the guy that dropped it.”

That guy’s head coach thought it was a catch, and that’s all that mattered, when it came to initiating the review process.

“It felt like it was incomplete,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told PFT after Baltimore’s 24-10 win over the Colts, “but then when you looked at it, they put it up on the screen there, and I could see it. [Cornerback Marcus Peters] had possession and then he took two steps clearly and then he had the third step down. . . . At worst, the third step is a football act. By rule, that’s a catch. I think they went and looked at it and . . . it was what it was. It was a catch.”

Harbaugh, and ultimately NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron, got it right. The league’s latest effort to redefine a catch (and also an interception) attempted to craft an objective standard to match the subjective, know-it-when-you-see-it gut feeling as to whether the ball was caught. On Sunday, Peters had the ball in his hands long enough to take three steps.

Yes, he was going backward and falling down as he did it. Sure, at fell speed it didn’t look like a catch. But if the objective standard is satisfied (and it is) by possession and three steps, Peters caught it.

The video evidence on that point was clear and obvious, even if it didn’t mesh with visceral sense of what is and isn’t a reception. Perhaps in some situations the current rule makes things that didn’t look like a catch into a catch. Regardless, the current rule creates a formula that makes it easier to make plays that look like catches into catches by providing a standard rooted in the objective and indisputable question of whether the player had possession, and whether he took three steps or, per the rule, tucked the ball away, extended it forward, turned upfield, or avoided or warded off an opponent.

That could make some things that don’t look like catches into catches. But it ensures that everything that looks like a catch will be a catch.

Which makes the current catch rule the best one the league has had in a very long time.

John Harbaugh explains decision to throw key challenge flag originally appeared on Pro Football Talk