It was a strange Sunday in the sports world as officials came directly in the crosshairs of criticism.
Three football games and a basketball game — that I bounced between with my ADD on full display — all showed issues with rules and how they are interpreted by referees.
Instant replay was supposed to help officials stop making mistakes, but sometimes it doesn’t matter how many camera angles there are or how many times someone views the replays because of controversy in the rules themselves.
Look at the Panthers/Packers game. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy was very upset over one of the two questionable calls that both went Carolina’s way.
I happen to agree with both calls, and not just because I’m a Panthers fan.
The first was the quickly christened “butt catch” by Damiere Byrd. I had just been telling my kid (freshly home from college) that Byrd lit it up in the preseason before getting injured and missing most of the season. Then the little guy goes up between two defenders and comes down with the ball, landing on his rear before continuing onto his back, which landed on the white paint of the back of the end zone.
The officials looked at the replay and determined that Byrd’s butt landed inbounds before his back then hit out of bounds, so it was a touchdown.
McCarthy said he was okay with that, but not the fumble ruling on a Packer reception.
Geronimo Allison caught the ball, started to turn upfield and then lost the ball when James Bradbury punched it out.
Allison caught the ball in mid-stride. His back foot was touching the ground, so one foot was down. Then he took two steps. So that is getting the second foot down and then getting a third touch in. That to me is the clear definition of completing the catch.
However, the officials spent a long time debating whether Allison did more after that third touch to show a “football move.”
In order to get credit for a catch on the sideline or the back of the end zone, the receiver needs to get two feet or one knee (or his rear end) down inbounds before going out of bounds. If those two touches count for making a catch, then why doesn’t taking a step for a third touch count as a “football move” all by itself?
A few years back, Steve Smith caught a slant pass while giving a little hop. Both feet were off the ground. His feet came down, then he started to run. He got two more steps in before getting hit and fumbling. The officials looked at the replay and ruled it an incomplete catch. He got two feet down and then two steps – that’s four touches with his feet.
Then there’s the idea of breaking the plane of the goal line. A week and a half ago, Jonathan Stewart scored a touchdown while extending the ball over the goal line. As he did this, a defender knocked the ball out of his hand. It looked like a fumble, but the refs said the ball was stretched over the goal line first, so the play ended right then and there. No fumble.
A similar play happened in the Steelers/Patriots game. TE Jesse James caught a pass while ducking down (in case a safety was about to lay a hit on him). James got his left knee down, twisted toward the goal line and extended the ball in two hands.
Getting a knee down is equal to two feet, and turning to the goal line would be a “football move” so he should have been considered a runner by that point. He extended the ball over the goal line, then hit the ground. His left hand was under the ball, but it wiggled out of that hand and over to his right.
After a lengthy viewing, the official called it an incomplete catch because he didn’t maintain control through the ground.
One, if the catch is completed with a knee on the ground, then why do you have to wait until he also dives onto his belly? Second, if Stewart’s fumble didn’t count because he broke the plane, then why doesn’t the play stop for James?
Third, and most importantly, there was no visual evidence that the ball ever touched the ground as it transferred from James’ left hand to his right, so why does it matter that it squirmed around? The ball can wiggle as long as it doesn’t touch turf, and no replay had definitive proof of touching turf. How do you overturn a call without indisputable evidence?
This “through the ground” nonsense needs to come under review. I saw a game last season where a receiver jumped up in the air near the sideline, got two feet down and then took another step toward the line, trying to get out of bounds. The defender hit him in the back. The receiver took a step out of bounds, slipped and fell 5 yards off the field of play. Then the ball was jarred loose. The pass was called incomplete.
The receiver caught the ball, took a step and was shoved out of bounds. Play over. It was only then that he slipped and fell down. Saying he didn’t survive the ground is the dumbest use of the rule I can imagine.
What James did reaching for the end zone is the same as the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant in 2015, which also wasn’t allowed as a touchdown. In both cases, the receiver simply could have caught the ball and let themselves go down at the 2-yard line, but they were putting out extra effort, trying to make the heroic play for their team. Is this the kind of thing we want to penalize?
It’s bad enough for receivers that the force-out rule was taken out in 2008 and CBs are being taught to pull on their hips and step on their feet, the least we can do is give players credit for the things they do right.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.