NFL catch rules not as complicated as people may think

Last Updated:
Posted in News

What is all this public uproar going on in NFL Nation over the NFL rules on what constitutes a catch? The rules are not that complicated if you just read them and give them their due thought … I realize that’s a problem for some more than others.

In the Bears-Lions game, some fans are in a tizzy over the Golden Tate touchdown, in which the ball popped out of his hands after he crossed the goal line. The play was originally ruled an interception — as it landed in the Bears’ hands — but later reviewed and changed to a touchdown.

I didn’t even need a replay to know it was a touchdown. I didn’t even flinch or let out a noise of excitement at the “supposed” interception. As soon as he crossed the plane of the goal line, it was over.

That’s because if a player has possession of the football, makes a football move, and crosses the plane of the goal line … touchdown. It doesn’t matter if the ball pops out after it crosses the goal line. The play is dead at that point.

Some will argue: how can you call Tate’s play a “football move?” Well, because he caught a pass and moved forward into the end zone with both feet on the ground. How can you not call that a football move?

The catch rule slightly changes when it comes to whether a player goes to the ground.

“What!? How can the rule change based on that!?”

Because of the Bert Emanuel rule. Emanuel caught a pass over a decade ago that he clearly had possession of. But the rule back in the day was that if any part of the football touches the ground, it’s automatically ruled incomplete. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? If a player clearly has the ball in his hands, shouldn’t it be okay if it grazes the ground after he catches it? Yes, it should. So that’s why the NFL placed this “process of the catch” rule into effect. It says that the ball cannot move when a player hits the ground; this way, we know whether the player had control of it (like Emanuel did), or the receiver trapped it and used the ground to help him.

Other fans want to continue being dramatic — quick, let me get a stage and an audience for you — about what constitutes a catch when a player makes contact with the ground.

Again, this is not a challenging concept. If a player goes to the ground in the process of a catch, he has to maintain control of the ball until the play is whistled dead.

“Daaa, what’s da process of da catch mean?”

Well, I’m glad you asked. Simply put, the process is this: a receiver catches the ball and before he starts running with it, he goes straight to the ground. When he’s on the ground, the process of the catch ends either when the whistle is blown or he “makes a second move.” (example: he gets up and starts running with it because nobody touched him)

“Umm, what does maintaining control of the ball mean?”

It means the ball doesn’t bobble in a player’s hands or arms or move on its own. Pay attention to the nose of the football; it’s usually a good indicator of whether that receiver has control of it or not.

This is not complicated, folks. I can’t vouch for officials who make an incorrect call, but the rules themselves are very simple.

And the Tate play in the end zone was a plain-and-simple touchdown.

Keep up with all the latest Chicago Bears news headlines and analysis. Stay on the #BearsBeat! Follow BearsBeat.com on Twitter and Facebook!