Bengals Thursday Thoughts: Eifert's Non-TD

Was Tyler Eifert's goal-line catch Sunday in Baltimore really a touchdown? The rules apparently say no. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said no. Here's another take on it...

Many Cincinnati fans thought that Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert had a touchdown at the goal line in Sunday's win at Baltimore.

But real life was to the contrary.

The scoring play, which could have given the Bengals a 21-0 lead, was overturned following a replay review.

So, what happened?

Here's one take on the situation by USA Today. What they wrote, and what they suggest:

"The NFL’s rules on completing a catch aren’t as ambiguous as the likes of Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert make it seem when a receiver is punished for not doing what the league has told them to do over and over: Hang on to the ball all the way to the ground.

There continues to be a disconnect between what everyone (including officials) see in real time and how the rules function, though. And the Eifert touchdown officials correctly overturned last weekend is one type of play that seems to have a logical fix.

If a player has control of the ball, got two feet in bounds and clearly reaches the ball forward, it should be a catch.

The tweak could apply strictly to goal-line plays, which already have a carveout that makes it a touchdown, not a fumble, if a runner loses control after the ball breaks the plane of the opponent’s goal line. Or it could apply everywhere if “goal-line play” is too vague, given the act begins (and may end) outside the end zone. Either way, Eifert’s touchdown would stand.

Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant’s controversial non-catch in last year’s playoff loss at Green Bay would be a tougher case. That’s surely one reason the NFL’s competition committee didn’t consider such a change when tweaking the rule in March to say: “A player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner” capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, and thus must maintain control of the ball after initial contact with the ground.

“The goal line lunge was not discussed,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora told USA TODAY Sports by email. “Either the player had time to become a runner before he went to the ground or he didn't. If he had time to become a runner and lunged it would be a TD.”

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the competition committee, said in March that “if you start talking about reaching the ball out or doing something like that on the way to ground, you just invite a lot of gray area back into the interpretation.”

The NFL wants officials to have objective criteria such as that applied to Eifert, who was hit by Baltimore Ravens safety Brynden Trawick before his second foot landed and lost the ball after it broke the plane, but before he hit the ground.

It makes sense to protect officials from subjective decisions on a (non-) catch like Bryant’s at a critical moment. But consider this example (A.R. 8.12) from the NFL’s 2015 casebook:

“First-and-10-on B25. A1 throws a pass to A2 who controls the ball and gets one foot down before he is contacted by B1. He goes to the ground as a result of the contact, gets his second foot down, and with the ball in his right arm, he braces himself at the three-yard line with his left hand and simultaneously lunges forward toward the goal line. When he lands in the end zone, the ball comes out.”

That sounds a lot like the Eifert play – except the casebook says it’s a touchdown. Why?

“The intent of this (approved ruling) is that the receiver becomes a runner by putting his arm down and lunging for the goal line,” NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said in a statement through Signora.

If officials can be trusted to distinguish between putting an arm down to lunge for the goal line and, say, Bryant’s right arm bracing his fall while he appeared to extend the ball with his left, it’s logical to think they could also be trusted on a case-by-case basis to decide whether a player is stretching for extra yards or just falling down.

The definition of a catch figures to be re-examined every year, despite limited incidents of major dispute. And while a global solution that instantly satisfies everyone is unrealistic, a tweak to put more power in officials’ hands over certain plays is at least worth a conversation."

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