When New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had the football knocked loose after apparently scoring a touchdown Sunday, an ongoing debate about what constitutes an NFL catch sparked more chatter in a complicated conversation.
Just like when Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant had his pivotal fourth-down catch reversed and ruled an incomplete pass in a playoff loss at Green Bay in January, the game's outcome was dramatically impacted by the ruling.
Instead of a touchdown, the Giants eventually settled for a field goal. Then New England drove to a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
The Indianapolis Colts were asked for their interpretation of the rule on Monday. Wide receiver Andre Johnson summed it up as succinctly as possible.
“The way things are now, you just have to get up with the ball. That’s pretty much it,” said the 13th-year pro with 1,036 career receptions. “Catch it, secure it through the ground, get up with it and give it to the referee.”
Wide receiver Griff Whalen admitted he’s heard Johnson say that repeatedly.
“Just get up with the ball,” said Whalen, who has five catches in each of the past two games. “If you do that, it’s a catch.”
Neither Beckham nor Bryant had the ball at the end of their controversial plays. Whalen said he thought both calls were correct based on the rules, but admitted while watching the game in real time he thought Bryant had made his catch. Bryant lost the ball when trying to extend it to the goal line.
“From what I understand, there’s a difference between if you’re going to the ground or not,” Whalen said. “So if you’re going to the ground, even if you get two feet down you have to maintain possession all the way through your contact with the ground.”
But some will ask why that is imperative, if in fact the receiver has made the catch? And how can a receiver reaching the ball to the goal line and has it knocked out be ruled an incomplete pass whereas a ballcarrier needs to just cross that line for a score?
Based on the rules, the ballcarrier has established possession whereas a receiver, in the controversial plays cited, has not. The key to establishing possession for a receiver is taking two steps after a catch.
“If you don’t go to the ground, you just need to get two feet down and make a move,” Whalen said.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said his pass catchers review film and are reminded of the rules on a weekly basis.
“You better get it put away and put away fast,” he said. “Try to take it out of everybody’s hands.
“When you don’t take two steps and you’re not a runner and all that stuff and you’re not down by contact, you’ve got to control the catch all the way through the ground.”
He mentioned the Bryant play and how that incomplete pass ruling has added to what coaches must convey to receivers.
“Now you’re having to coach with receivers, going up, trying to make a play, then instinctively reaching for a goal line, scoring the winning or go-ahead touchdown if you will, and that ball comes out,” Pagano said. “Now guys have to understand. And it’s hard because it’s all instinctive bang-bang plays. But those are the rules.”
Added Whalen, “If you keep the ball the whole time, you don’t have to worry about it.”
And if not?
“Then you never know,” he said.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.