Catch of the Day: How the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Changed the NFL Rulebook


Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

As I sit here watching the Giants and Ravens game, one play brings back awful memories for me. The Ravens were denied a touchdown catch by Jacoby Jones because he did not “complete the catch,” as the receiver dived for the end zone soon after making a catch, and was deemed to have “performed no second act common to the game.” Even FOX officiating guru Mike Pereria thought the play should have been considered a catch and score, but the officials on the field overturned the call and it cost the Ravens a touchdown.

From the official NFL rules, as found online:

"Article 3  Completed or Intercepted Pass. A player who makes a catch may advance the ball. A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) 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.)."

Now, what the in the world does it this have to do with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Think back, if you will, to the NFC Championship against the Rams in January of 2000. Shaun King seemingly completed a pass to Bert Emanuel, who held possession of the ball, prior to the ball touching the ground. However, replay officials overturned the ruling on the field, deeming the ball had not been caught, and the Buccaneers drive would end, and thereby end hopes of a comeback. It was after this game that the NFL Competition Committee began the process of constantly tweaking and changing the rules of what it means to catch the football, and to this day, there is little more clarity on the topic, just more vague phrases and frustrating moments.

Mandatory Credit: ©Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports


This is not the only time the Buccaneers have dealt with this kind of play. If you remember the 2006 playoff matchup against the Washington Redskins, the Buccaneers came face to face with this rule once again in a key moment.  Edell Shepherd was on the receiving end of a perfect pass from Chris Simms (video in the link), and when his elbow hit the ground, the ball jarred loose, resulting in an incomplete pass as deemed by the officials. However, Shepherd did secure the ball in his hands and arms prior to the ball hitting the ground, but the ground jarred the ball loose. This falls under the “completing the catch” clause that is attached to the rule, which has famously been ignored in other situations. Rob Gronkowski’s catch against the Broncos in the AFC playoffs last year is a perfect example (video in the link). Gronk never has complete control of the ball, and it clearly drags along the ground as he lands. However, the play was upheld, and the Patriots would continue their dominance of the Broncos.

Today’s example of Jacoby Jones being robbed of a score is just another victim in the complicated history of the rules “being made up as they go” nature of the completed catch. Ever since Bert Emanuel was unjustly denied a completed catch, the NFL has had no idea what truly constitutes a catch. Jacoby Jones had possession of the ball, and then dove for the end zone, evading a defender. This meets every criteria set forth by the NFL. Maybe the answer is to more succinctly define what a catch is?

In my opinion, a catch should be any time that a player possesses the ball and gets both feet, or any other body part, down in bounds. It’s really as simple as that. Why add more to it? The thought that a player who is being brought to the ground can lose a hard earned catch because their elbow lands awkwardly is nonsense. Have you ever landed on your “funny bone”, or otherwise bumped your elbow while carrying something? There’s a natural reaction that rockets through your arm and hand. These players have enough to worry about without worrying about tucking in their elbow at the expense of their shoulders just to make a catch. Edell Shepherd and Rob Gronkowski’s plays should have been judged based having possession of the ball, in bounds, with both feet or a knee down. I believe both did, which under my new rule would make them both a score. However, under the current NFL rules, neither play is a catch. The rule needs to be fixed before it impacts yet another important NFL game, as it did for Bert, Edell, and Gronk.

So to all of you trying to enjoy NFL football, and wondering why the heck your player isn’t being rewarded for making a great catch, you can thank the Bucs and Bert Emanuel. Because without his memorable play, the history of the completed catch rule could have been completely different. Instead, the Buccaneers helped to further muddy the waters of the NFL’s most complicated and confusing rule.

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