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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

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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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4 thoughts on “Differences between Cruz, Megatron catches not blurred lines in rulebook

  1. With all due respect. Your analysis doesn’t make any sense.

    Both players (Calvin and Cruz) left their feet to make the catch. Both lost control when the ball hit the ground. Neither established possession.

    Calvin got his feet down and propelled himself forward slightly with his feet, and extended the ball with his hands over the goal line. He was falling at the time and he did bobble the ball when it hit the ground. No touchdown. Correct call.

    Cruz didn’t dive into the endzone. Cruz jumped to catch the ball. While jumping he grabbed the ball (no feet or anything down yet) and he reached out across the line. After that he fell to the ground and the ball popped out of his hand.

    Are you trying to say Cruz had the ball and feet down before he jumped? That didn’t happen. Are you saying that you can make a secondary football move before you have feet down to establish possession? That doesn’t make any sense.

    Cruz didn’t possess the ball. He was not a runner. He certainly didn’t hold onto the ball all the way through the catch. He didn’t reach out over the goal line after establishing his feet on the ground. He did nothing other than drop the ball as a football act.

  2. The fine line is one without a real distinction. Both receivers possessed the ball, Calvin Johnson caught it and showed control by bringing it into his body. He then made a football move by twisting his body not to catch the ball but to propel himself into the end zone and then he reached out with the ball, another demonstration of control, the ball came loose when he hit the ground. Cruz likewise did a twist and turn and muscled his way into the end zone. The ball came loose when he hit the ground. One of the oldest rules in football is that the ground can’t cause a fumble, except, apparently for receivers. The problem with the process rule is they forgot what it was all about — to avoid having officials make overly judgmental decisions about whether a receiver had held onto the ball while diving horizontally for it or whether it would be a fumble if he let it go when hit by a defender before he reached the ground. The rule should simply be if a receivers feet touch the ground and he demonstrates control by bringing the ball to his body and then either tucks it away to run or fully extends it with control, it’s a catch. If he goes to the ground then, the ball is down at the point of contact, and not a fumble. If the ball is loose before he hits the ground having accomplished those acts (feet down and ball brought to body, tuck or reach out), then it is a fumble, if he doesn’t get his feet down and the ball comes out when he hits the ground, process isn’t completed and it’s incomplete. And if he fails to tuck or reach and is hit and the ball comes out it’s incomplete, not a fumble. But if he gets the feet down, brings the ball to his body and then either tucks the ball or reaches out with it and is hit and the ball goes loose, it is a fumble. Will there still be controversies? Definitely. But it’s fairer than what they have now and an easier process to understand, IMHO

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