NFL made catch rule worse with latest explanation that's bound to inflame fans, players

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the competition committee has its “work cut out” on the rules of NFL catches. Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott McDermott is “at a loss” to understand the officiating of them. And Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins “isn’t satisfied” with the actual definition. OF. A. CATCH.

Meanwhile, fans just want this all to make sense. To find simplicity. To match up with what the eyes tell us. Yet, this sensible resolution remains absurdly elusive, as if it were written on a note card and then buried beneath Jimmy Hoffa.

And it’s only getting worse. Either the catch rule isn’t written correctly … or not officiated correctly … or some combination of both. If you needed a prime example, Christmas Eve gifted one more lump of coal for the fire, when the NFL’s replay overlord negated a touchdown catch from Buffalo Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin – while watching from the league’s operations office in New York, no less.

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It turns out you can even screw up an NFL catch via telephone. NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron proved it Sunday, overturning a Bills touchdown catch during a 37-16 Bills loss to the New England Patriots.

Kelvin Benjamin and the Bills thought they had momentum going into the locker room at halftime. Upon further review, the NFL saw things a different way. (AP)
Kelvin Benjamin and the Bills thought they had momentum going into the locker room at halftime. Upon further review, the NFL saw things a different way. (AP)

In response, two high-profile former NFL officiating executives wasted no time blasting the decision, proving that almost nobody likes the league’s catch rules (you can excuse Bill Belichick and Eli Manning on this). Not the players. Not the coaches. Not the fans. And not even the guys who used to get paid by the NFL to carry this noxious pail of water.

Sunday’s problem in a nutshell: Riveron overruled his officials on the field, striking down the Bills touchdown without clear evidence. It happened after Benjamin appeared to catch a touchdown in the second quarter and touch both feet down to complete the play. Officials on the field ruled it a score. Replays suggesting otherwise were extremely inconclusive (at best). By the letter of the NFL law, Riveron was supposed to yield to his guys on the field. Instead, he chimed in from the league’s operations headquarters and overturned the play – without an actual explanation on the field.

That didn’t sit well with two men who previously held Riveron’s position – former NFL vice presidents of officiating Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino.

Both took to Twitter and gave us another thing to mull over when it comes to catches and non-catches – and the replay system that’s supposed to make it all simpler. First came Pereira, who was watching the play on the massive video board in Dallas’ AT&T Stadium.

“Not in the studio but on the scoreboard here in Jerry’s world, don’t see how the Buffalo TD was overturned,” Pereira tweeted. “Not clear and obvious the toe didn’t drag. There is a line behind the toe when he drags it. Am I missing something?”

Then he went on …

“Regarding the Buffalo no touchdown, nothing more irritating to an official than to make a great call and then someone in a suit in an office in New York incorrectly reverses it. It is more and more obvious that there isn’t a standard for staying with the call on the field.”

And on …

“Now that another touchdown has been taken away with out clear and obvious evidence, it is time to move on to the catch rule. It doesn’t work. … The League and the [Competition] Committee cannot be close minded on this. It is not working now. We have to adjust this to make the game better.”

If that wasn’t enough, Blandino joined in, tweeting, “In New England, the issue is whether Benjamin had control with left foot down. Did not see anything clear & obvious to the contrary.”

Blandino, who works for Fox Sports along with Pereira, then followed with video that seemed to speak conclusively to Riveron having blown the call.

Last week’s controversy was also against the Patriots, this one a Jesse James incompletion/catch. (AP)
Last week’s controversy was also against the Patriots, this one a Jesse James incompletion/catch. (AP)

On and on it goes. If there’s anything we’ve seen this season, it’s that the league’s catch rule continues to be ridiculously broken. The idea of controlling the ball when going to the ground; what constitutes a catch and fumble; getting both feet in bounds while clearly possessing a catch – it’s an endless string of disagreements. And if Tomlin is correct, the competition committee will be tackling it yet again this offseason. As it should.

But not before adding the league’s wrinkle of having the New York office overrule plays from afar, without clear evidence. A standard that seemed impossible to break suddenly looks broken. We thought the officiating of a catch was bad. We thought the rulebook was worse. The debate should have stopped there. But Al Riveron asked someone to hold his beer and gave us one more thing to gripe about with NFL catches.

Tis the season. Every season. Maybe forever.

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