September 19, 2010
We'll all remember the non-touchdown throw from Shaun Hill(notes) to Calvin Johnson(notes) that kept the Detroit Lions from winning their 2010 season opener over the Chicago Bears. Though it appeared that Johnson caught the ball and went to the ground with possession in the end zone, the league rule stated that the play was not "completed" because Johnson let go of the ball too early. It was the correct interpretation of a very iffy rule -- kind of like the Tuck Rule or the old "ingredients of a hold" calls - and the Lions just had to roll with it in a 19-14 loss that looked like it should have been a win.
In Detroit's follow-up game today -- their home opener against the Philadelphia Eagles - the Lions were almost victimized by the officiating crew's inability to call the rule correctly. With 3:12 left in the first quarter, the Eagles had the ball at their own 48-yard line, and Michael Vick(notes) threw a deep seam route to DeSean Jackson(notes) down the left side. Jackson took the ball in despite the best efforts of cornerback Jonathan Wade(notes), but as he went to the ground, the ball clearly came out on impact.
You can see that Lions head coach Jim Schwartz was about to burst into flames on the sidelines, and understandably so. Fortunately, the call was challengeable, and first-year head official Clete Blakeman actually did get it right in reversing the call and deeming the play an incompletion. If you're going to have a nonsensical rule that leaves far too much open to interpretation, you at least have to call it both ways.
My good buddy Michael David Smith put it very well today over at Pro Football Talk:
The NFL's rules on what constitutes a complete pass when a receiver goes to the ground still don't seem to make much sense, and this play showed how absurd it is that the NFL is claiming there's no gray area on this rule. If there's no gray area, why didn't the official on the field get it right? And if there's no gray area, why did former head of officiating Mike Pereira, who commented on the play in his role as a FOX analyst, seem unsure whether it would be upheld or overturned?
Well, the rule is counterintuitive the way it's currently written, and Pereira isn't any less confused by its implementation than anyone else. The Eagles eventually won the game, 35-32, the new-look Lions looked strong for a second straight week, and it's pretty clear that the Competition Committee needs to get together for an emergency meeting and address the problems caused by the possession rule on catches. They voted to leave the rule as is over the offseason, and that was clearly a mistake.
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