Complaints about the NFL's seemingly incomprehensible rules on what is and is not considered a catch have reached laughable proportions. No one knows. And it's become the NFL's punchline.
The latest incident happened in last Sunday's game between the Raiders and Lions. Michael Crabtree caught a pass along the right sideline, had both feet down with possession, went out of bounds, took two steps along the sideline, stumbled, and used the hand which was holding the ball to catch his balance.
The catch was initially ruled complete by one official, a second official - Carl Johnson - came over and emphatically signaled incomplete.
Here is a Vine of the (non)catch:
It was a catch to pretty much everyone. Everyone except the NFL rule book and the officials charged with interpreting it.
"It's not a good rule, but it's a rule," Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. "I think we could do the hundred people in the bar test and there'd be 99 if not 100% would say that's a catch. Frustrating, but that's what it is."
People in Detroit know all too well what it feels like to have such a catch ruled incomplete. The exact same thing happened to them a few years ago. It wasn't the first time a clear catch was ruled incomplete - that too began with the Raiders when Louis Murphy had a touchdown catch ruled incomplete - but the uproar really started when Calvin Johnson had a TD catch waved off.
"That was a clear case of... just like Calvin Johnson," said Del Rio. "When it first started. Years ago, he makes what we all would say is a catch, puts the ball down, the ball comes out and they say it's not a catch. And that's where all this started from. Ironic that we were there in Detroit where it all happened, where it all started. But that's what they're gonna do."
Well, that may not be ‘what they're gonna do' much longer, because Roger Goodell finally said in an interview with USA Today that the league intends to do something about it.
"We debated that in the office the last couple weeks," Goodell said. "And I think what we're really going to do is get some people who are really focused on evaluating every one of these, and try to see, because it's a balance between what you think is a catch, what the officials can officiate on a consistent basis and what's going to have what we call the unintended consequences. . . A lot of people believe the right way to do it is the second foot down and control, that's a catch. That's something we'll have to look at. Again."
It must be iterated that Goodell didn't answer this question as he did because of the Crabtree catch (no surprise there), but that the Crabtree catch is a perfect illustration of the major problem the league has with their convoluted catch rule.
Something at very least has to be distinguished between gaining possession inbounds and losing it out of bounds. There are too many obstacles on the sideline that could cause a player to stumble and/or knock the ball loose. Like players and coaches, photographers, or any number of things.
It's too late for the Raiders and Crabtree. That catch came in the second quarter and would have resulted in a first down, and put the Raiders in Lions territory for the first time, but instead they were forced to punt. They would be held scoreless in the first half.