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Differences between Cruz, Megatron catches not blurred lines in rulebook




The process of the catch seems to be one of those Week 1 staples, as we reported in Week 1 of 2009 and 2010. And this week, we have Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, just like in 2010, involved in a process call for a touchdown. Then, a different catch in the Sunday night game added extra scrutiny to the call.

  • Johnson was diving for the ball, falling to the ground, and then lost control of the ball in the process of going to the ground (video).
  • On the Sunday night game, Giants receiver Victor Cruz was turning and reaching for the end zone, then was contacted by a Cowboys safety and bobbled the ball after breaking the plane of the goal (video).

While they both involve the process of the catch, these two plays are not similar. Since Cruz was not initially falling, and his second act of reaching for the end zone ended the process of the catch earlier than in Johnson’s case. It is a fine line (just like other calls this weekend, milliseconds of difference), but it is a clear line that separates the two calls. Rule 12-2-7 has the process:

Item 2: … A player must have complete control of the ball and have both feet or any other part of his body, other than his hands, completely on the ground inbounds, and maintain control of the ball long enough to perform any act common to the game. If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any other part of his body to the ground, there is no possession. This rule applies in the field of play and in the end zone. …

Note 1: A player who goes to the ground in the process of attempting to secure possession of a loose ball (with or without contact by an opponent) must maintain control of the ball after he touches 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 regains control, there is no possession. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, it is a catch, interception, or recovery.

Why can’t you just call these two plays catches? On the Cruz play, he clearly had the ability to do something on his own power, and anywhere else on the field, he is ruled to have a catch and fumble. Johnson, however, cannot do anything on his own power until gravity takes him to the ground. Johnson’s catch must be ruled incomplete, otherwise the same catch would be a cheap fumble in the field of play (not having the end zone in play). For that reason, the two processes of the catch exist, and there cannot be a separate definition that only governs goal-line plays.

Then again, maybe I’m going blind, maybe I’m going out of my mind.

Image: Gavin Smith/Detroit Lions

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)