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Each week throughout the NFL season, Mike Pereira, the league’s former vice president of officiating, will answer readers’ questions about officiating and league rules.
To put your questions up for Pereira’s review, email them to email@example.com and include your name and location in the submission.
Q: I am curious about when possession is established. On Chris Hogan’s touchdown reception for New England on Thursday night, he is in the air when he catches the ball in the end zone. When he lands, his feet are definitely out of the end zone and the ball appears to be out of the end zone as well. If possession isn’t established until two feet are down, should this be a score? Or is the end zone just different in scoring situations?
– Jacob Lesle, Santa Ana
A: This question was asked a lot over the weekend and is a good one.
There are two elements to this play: forward progress and the catch.
The catch is not completed until the receiver comes down with the ball and maintains control when he hits the ground. Hogan did that. The issue then becomes where he gets forward progress.
By rule, a receiver who controls the ball in the air gets forward progress to the point where he is first contacted by a defender. He gets that spot as long as he completes the catch by maintaining possession throughout the process.
When Hogan was first contacted, the ball had broken the plane and was in the end zone. Thus it was correctly ruled a touchdown.
Q: With 4:37 left in the fourth quarter of the 49ers-Cardinals game, there was a penalty called. Why did it take so long for the clock to start afterward? It seems as if this gave the Cardinals extra time in the end of the game.
– Jay Robinson, Sacramento
A: Timing rules are different when the clock gets inside of two minutes of the second quarter and inside five minutes of the fourth quarter. Before those time frames, when a runner goes out of bounds or a penalty stops the clock, the clock restarts when the ball is put down and made ready for play. Inside of two and five, however, the clock does not start until the ball is snapped.
That was the difference you noticed after the foul at 4:37 of the fourth quarter. By the way, the clock remains stopped after a penalty even if the penalty is declined.
Why is the timing rule this way? Mainly because rules makers wanted more plays in the most exciting parts of the game. This rule gives teams a better chance of making a comeback.
Q: Being a simple man, I grew up believing I knew what a catch was. I also read John Madden’s book, “One Knee Equals Two Feet.” I understood that, if a player had possession of the ball when he was considered down (a designated body part was in contact with the turf) and inbounds (one knee or two feet), or when the play was whistled dead, it was a catch – regardless of what happened afterward. In addition, the ground could not cause a fumble (or loss of possession). This seemed to be a common-sense definition that could still be used today. Instead, we have reviews that draw conclusions that many still dispute, even with HD TV and super slow motion. “Did the ball move?” is one question I hear a lot. Is there any way we can return to the days where the standard seemed to make it easier to define a catch?
– Neil Arsenault, West Sand Lake, N.Y.
A: What is or isn’t a catch has become the most frustrating part of the game for fans, players, coaches and, often, me.
What is even more frustrating for me is that I don’t have a good answer how to fix it. If I had a magic wand and could use it one time to address the issue, I would take catch/no catch completely out of replay. I would leave it in the hands and eyes of the officials and let their common sense dictate whether a pass is complete or not.
If it looks like a catch and feels like a catch, then rule it a catch and move on. Both plays involving Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant over the past few years looked and felt like catches, but the rule and replay turned them into incomplete passes.
That being said, you can’t go to the “one knee equals two feet” premise put forth by the great John Madden. That premise was more about getting a body part down inbounds at the sideline. There has to be an element of time and you have to hold on to the ball when you hit the ground. If not, there would be so many plays that would turn into fumbles and turnovers.
Often, these receivers are not touched before going to the ground, so these balls coming out immediately when one knee or two feet hit the ground would be fumbles. That is just not practical. So there has to be control, two feet (or another body part) and time.
But let’s go back to the days before replay. If it looks, smells and feels like a catch, let the officials rule it a catch and leave replay out of it. After all, replay was never supposed to get involved in judgment calls.
Mike Pereira is a rules analyst for Fox Sports who lives in Sacramento.