In March, NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino told PFT Live that the language to the rule regarding a catch would be tweaked, but that the rule would not significantly be changed.
“I think as part of this discussion around this play it was that ‘act common to the game,’ football move, whatever you want to call it, that I think created some confusion,” Blandino said. “And so in an effort to clear that up the committee looked at the language and made several changes. So in order to complete a catch, the receiver has to have control, both feet on the ground and he has to have it after that long enough to clearly establish himself as a runner. And this would fall directly in line with our defenseless player rule where we say a receiver is protected until he can clearly establish himself as a runner.”
As noted by Blandino’s predecessor, Mike Pereira on Twitter, via Deadspin, the new rule goes like this: “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. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regain control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.”
It’s a lot of words to equate a receiver who can be hit in the head or neck because he’s no longer defenseless with a receiver who can go to the ground and lose possession of the ball and have the outcome still be a catch.
The bigger problem is that a disconnect will continue to exist between the NFL’s rule for determining what is and isn’t a catch and the reasonable expectations of the game’s stakeholders. The Dez Bryant play looked, to the reasonable person, like a catch. Until the rules make a play like that a catch, the rules won’t be properly serving the best interests of the game.