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Why Texans TD catch was upheld

Week 2: Texans at Titans

I knew once I saw the video of Jacoby Jones’s touchdown catch for the Texans that this would need explaining. It did not take long before and comment came in linking it to the Raiders’ overturned touchdown last week. (By the way, I vow that this is the last time that we will mention the Raider reversal—it has been thoroughly beaten to death.)

If you haven’t seen the play from the Texans game, here’s the video.

As we wrote last week, if a receiver is going to the ground, the receiver must maintain possession through to the ground. In the case of the Raiders touchdown, receiver Louis Murphy caught the ball, got two feet down, his butt landed in the end zone and then his torso landed. At that point the ball squirted out and touched the turf. By the rules, that is an incomplete pass, as the receiver did not maintain possession down to the ground.

As for the Texans touchdown, Jacoby Jones caught the ball falling to the ground. He bounced off of Cortland Finnegan of the Titans on his way to the ground. Finnegan then pulled Jones back down to the turf where Jones dropped the ball on the ground. The Raider Nation was looking for vindication: surely, this will be overturned on review.

Except the fact that the two plays are not the same.

When Jones lands on the opponent, he has gone to the ground, because the next thing that happens is that he gets pulled back up by Finnegan. Since Jones landed once, there is no requirement for him to land again on the ground. (Keep in mind, this is completely separate than the down-by-contact rule which says that the ball carrier is not down if he is on top of an opponent.) Had Finnegan not slightly lifted Jones, there might have been a case for a reversal.

In the Raiders situation, Murphy goes to the ground, first by his rear, and then continues downward. His rear contacting the ground is not enough (again, we are not applying the down-by-contact rules), as he was still going down to the ground.

I will admit it was a borderline call, but ultimately the right call. It was upheld on replay. Walt Coleman was the referee, Bill Spyksma was the replay official; as best I can tell, back judge Steve Freeman was covering on the play.

Ben Austro
Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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2 thoughts on “Why Texans TD catch was upheld

  1. You’re ultra-semantical argument that Jones hit the “ground” in the end zone when he fell on top of the defender is unsupported by any reasonable interpretation of the intent of the rules, and indefensible. Jones didn’t actually hit the ground until he flipped over the defender, otherwise any contact with any part of the end zone (or any defender in the end zone) after establishing possession would result in a touchdown. That would suggest that if Murphy had been in contact with a defender as any part of his body touched the ground in the end zone on his disputed touchdown catch then it should have been ruled a valid score. The real issue is the NFL (intentionally or not) has immersed itself in the miasma of semantical argument (without, it appears, the capacity for it) on issues that even the average fan can intuit, to the sport’s detriment. Out with instant replay and labyrinthine rules. The NFL and its officials are clearly incapable of applying either accurately and efficiently.

  2. You are confusing “going to the ground” with “down by contact.” The rules are clear that you have to hold on to the ball into the ground. If you cannot maintain two solid feet and control of the ball, then it is not a catch in the big leagues. It may make for spectacular highlights to have shoestring catches with two toe taps in bounds, but this isn’t college.

    When Jones goes over the defender, he is no longer going down to the ground. Also, the defender is adding new action to the process of making a catch, so the action of going to the ground has stopped. Convoluted description, yes, but the rules are very clear on this.

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