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What defines a catch in the NFL?

Posted Jan 31, 2018

Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the hot topic of what defines an NFL catch.

It was without a doubt one of the hottest topics during the NFL season, and that was evident when it was part of the first question asked during NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s ‘State of the NFL’ press conference during Super Bowl LII week.

What defines a catch in the NFL?

It’s a question that arose several times this year, and Steelers fans were definitely asking that when Jesse James’ apparent touchdown catch against the New England Patriots in Week 15 was ruled no catch.

The play happened in the fourth quarter, with the Steelers down 27-24, and just 34 seconds on the clock. Ben Roethlisberger connected with James for a 10-yard touchdown, with James going to the ground as he extended for the end zone. The play was ruled a touchdown on the field, but after a long delay with the replay officials looking at it, the call was overturned and ruled incomplete. Two plays later Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone, and the Steelers lost.

What constitutes a catch is something that has been debated, and the confusion is something that Goodell understands requires clarity.

“I think a lot of the focus for us in the offseason is going to be on the rulebook. You look at the catch-no catch rule. The officials are officiating that correctly,” said Goodell. “What we have to do is find a rule that we think is going to address what we think should be a catch in the league.

“We had several Hall of Fame players in the NFL office just two weeks ago. We had several coaches, several officials. We spent three hours looking through 150 plays and tried to look for what it is we think should be a catch and what we think the rule should be to make sure that it is deemed a catch on the field. I think we have some very good ideas that we are going to submit to the competition committee. I think there will be a lot of focus on going to the ground, which I think has been part of the confusion for everyone in respect to that rule. I think we have a great opportunity here to get this rule right, so that everyone understands it, appreciates it, and it’s not the focus going forward.”

The NFL Competition Committee normally meets in advance of the League Meeting in March, and Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin is a member of that committee. The group will be challenged with looking at the suggestions presented to them, and coming up with something that all can clearly understand.

“When we went through those 150 plays, we had Hall of Famers in there,” said Goodell. “There are a lot of people who have different perspectives on it. There was a lot of disagreement in the room on what a catch was and wasn’t. People with great football experience can disagree on that. As an example Cris Carter believes you should make a catch, you should stand up and hand it to the referee. If you don’t do that, it’s not a catch. I admire and respect him a great deal. There are others who have a view that if you get possession of it and get that second foot down, it’s immediately a catch. I think intelligent and thoughtful people that have great football experience can disagree on what a catch is or what a catch isn’t.

“From our standpoint I think I would like to start back and instead of adding to the rule or subtracting from the rule, is starting over and looking at the rule fundamentally from the start. I think when you add or subtract things, you can still lead to confusion. These rules are very complex. You have to look at what the unintended consequences are of making a change, which is what the competition committee in my view does so well and with so much thought. We’re trying to supplement that here a little bit in advance of their analysis, giving them some thought starters of the ideas we think we can focus on. My history on this is we try to encourage them to focus on two or three things that we think will make a big difference in our game. Clearly catch-no catch has been a lot of discussion and disagreement over and I think we can clarify this rule. I think we can do it with a lot of hard work, focus and get to a place where I am not going to tell you there won’t be controversy, but I believe we can get to a much better place.”