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Despite the general vernacular understanding of the rule, it is not necessary for a receiver to maintain control of the ball as he goes to the ground unless previous control was never established, control being defined by Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3 of the official 2013 NFL rule book as follows:

“A catch is complete… if a player, who is inbounds:

a) secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and

b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and

c) maintains control of the ball long enough, after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, to enable him to perform any act common to the game (i.e., maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.).”

A and B were clearly met. C is the item at issue, and by its nature is almost unavoidably subjective, but it needs to be kept in mind that the parameters for overturning a call made on the field are, according to Rule 15, Section 9, Article 3, as follows:

“A decision will be reversed only when the referee has indisputable visual evidence available to him that warrants the change.”

If it was plausible that Bryant was stretching for the end zone after both feet made contact with the ground, which would constitute an “act common to the game”, it shouldn’t be overturned.

Is there indisputable evidence that Bryant would have clearly lost his footing even if he were not stretching for the end zone? Quite possibly–heck, probably–he would have, but it’s conceivable that he might not have, and that bare minimum possibility is the standard for the ruling on the field to stand.

Had the pass initially been ruled incomplete, it’d be an open-and-shut case, but the ruling on the field was a completed pass and thus should have been left to stand.

(Republished from The Audacious Epigone by permission of author or representative)
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  1. While instant replay is entertaining and informative (and should stay) the idea that it improves officiating and corrects errors is patently absurd. Replay officials get the calls wrong half the time.

  2. This subject is not appropriate for an intelligent discussion.

  3. Anonymous [AKA "88"] says:

    Great post. I can't believe how many sports commentators are ignoring the relevant point and just focusing on the rule about possession with contact on the ground. Bryant was clearly trying to have the ball cross the plane of the end zone. It is the reason he extends forward and propels forward and loses his feet. Possession prior renders the ground contact question irrelevant.

  4. Sykes,

    It certainly doesn't eliminate error entirely. A minority of challenges end up successfully overturning calls on the field, but it's a large minority, on the order of 40%. For what it's worth (nothing!), I think that figure should be closer to 10%. The call should be unequivocally, obviously incorrect to be overturned. It shouldn't ever be a surprise to a significant number of spectators.


    Juvenal would agree, and so would Cicero, but both would understand the appeal. Panem et circenses.


    Yes, the consensus is quickly becoming "great effort, should have been a catch if only the rules weren't so silly, but the rules are the rules". The Calvin Johnson TD overrule from 4 years ago is not comparable because he was in the end zone at the time of the reception and therefore had no opportunity to perform an "act common to the game". This gets no mention in the rapidly forming consensus opinion.

  5. Off topic

    Has their been a slowdown in the occurrence of climate change articles in the news, or am I just not paying attention?

  6. The last two winters have been unseasonably cold in much of the US. I am not insinuating how that plays into longer term climate cycles, just that it's hard to get people worked up about warmer temperatures when they're freezing their asses off. Think of the church scene in the Simpsons' episode homer the heretic if you're familiar with the show.

  7. He was stretching for the end zone, which has been a common "football move" for a few decades now. (It was uncommon, I recall, in the later 1960s, but I don't remember when it started to be standard procedure: maybe around 1980-1990?)

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