September 11, 2011
The details of a pivotal play in the Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Jets game could have read like an SAT question: "Miles, a receiver, goes up for a ball. Antonio, a defender, goes for the same ball. Both land in the end zone, each with their arms wrapped around the ball. Who is awarded possession?"
It happened Sunday night at Met Life Stadium when Miles Austin(notes) of the Cowboys fought for a ball in the end zone with Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie(notes). They came down with the Tony Romo(notes) pass at the same time, wrestling with each other as they fell into the end zone with the ball between them. We knew one thing. The ball had been caught. But by whom? Look one way and you'd think Austin had it. Shift your eyes right and it was Cromartie who had possession. They couldn't both catch the ball, right? Who gets it? The receiver, who's awarded a touchdown? Or the defender, whose interception would have led to a Jets touchback?
To answer that question, officials referred to the NFL Rulebook, specifically rule 8, section 1, article 3, item 5 (there are a lot of rules in that book; it's about 10 times as long as the United States Constitution):
If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.
In less-Hochulian terms: You know the "tie goes to the runner" rule in baseball? Simultaneous catch is the football equivalent. If two guys come down with the ball, somebody has to be credited with a catch and it might as well be the team that already has possession. It's a rule of convenience and common sense. Touchdown, Dallas Cowboys.
Watch the replay again and you'll see that although Austin and Cromartie came down with the ball at the same time, one of them distinctly had possession when they were in midair:
From that picture, it appears Cromartie has both hands and a good cradle on the football. Austin's hands are on the ball too, but they're on top of it and he couldn't have had much of a grip. This was Cromartie's ball to catch. Austin went and took it away.
There shouldn't be much shame in this. As any longtime reader of Shutdown Corner knows, and Antonio Cromartie just found out, it's impossible to out-muscle Miles. Somehow, I get the feeling this won't be a reasonable excuse in film study on Tuesday when Rex Ryan is chewing out his cornerback for getting beat on a touchdown.
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