Dez Bryant – According to the Rules, Was it a Catch?


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Friends, I have sat down to write this article numerous times, after a multitude of discussions, following replay after replay from angle after angle – examining this catch-no-catch.  Truthfully, I don’t know where I stand.  Before I explain, please check out the behemoth that is

Rule 8

, Article 3.  Also, you’ll want to scroll back up to watch this Vine about a million times.

First, it is a question of possession.  Does Dez Bryant establish possession before going to the ground (not hitting the ground).  This is important because many people immediately invoke Item 1, which begins: “If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass”.

If Bryant establishes possession and then goes to the ground,  Item 1 is irrelevant.  This would seem applicable to this situation since Bryant and defender Sam Shields lock legs.  In other words, he wasn’t in the act of catching the pass while falling to ground, rather, it could be argued that he caught the pass and then hit was hit to the ground.

But did he catch the pass?  Look at the earliest part of the rule:

A forward pass is complete if a player, who is inbounds:
   (a) secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
   (b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
   (c) maintains control of the ball long enough, after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, to enable him to
   perform any act common to the game

It is quite clear that both A and B were achieved – Bryant held the ball securely with two hands before transferring it to one, and he certainly landed “three feet” inbounds (as Coach Garrett likes to say).  So what about C?

Some analysts, and Bryant himself, have claimed that his extension of the arm and push off from the right foot was enough to demonstrate “an act common to the game”.  However, the rule does not say such an act must be demonstrated, but simply, that the player must have time to do so.  In fact, this is made clear in Note 1.  It would seem apparent that if he was able to commit an act, he had the time to do so, but let’s move on.

So what is the measure for this stipulation?  Well, with nothing else to go by, it must be points A and B.  But we’ve already established that Bryant landed two feet inbounds and held the ball securely – didn’t we?  Look at the replay again.  Has #88 secured the ball while his first leg is on the ground?  It’s debatable, and if the answer is no, then his second step must be considered his first step (in order to satisfy B).

“But he took 3 steps!” nearly exclaimed Howie Long during the post-game.  Well by that time, Dez is already heading to the ground, and by the way, the rule specifies that even if a player is headed to the ground per result of contact, Item 1 should be invoked.  Now, we have to see if he maintains possession throughout the act or not.

This, my friends, is really a judgement call.  Many point to the fact that the ball moved after hitting the ground as evidence that Bryant had lost control.  Some, like myself, argue that his firm grip on the ball’s end shows that he always had control of it.

How about when it popped up in the air?  Surely that’s a sign he had lost possession.  Yet he caught it, and the rule states: “If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.

So what about when the ground causes one to lose control, but then one re-gains it before the ball touches ground again?  Announcers love to say things like “The ground can’t cause a fumble” – but there’s nothing in the rule book about that.  In fact, Item 4 says that “If the ball touches the ground after the player secures control of it, it is a catch, provided that the player continues to maintain control.”  All together, this means that the answer to the question of possession should be found in Bryant’s second and third steps and, possibly, once he’s hit the ground.

Although if his body hits the ground before the ball, which it does, shouldn’t he have been down by contact, since after all, his trip over Sam Shields is what sent him down in the first place, thus negating what happens after with the ball?  Well, as my lawyer boss enjoyed pointing out – this could be likened to a receiver getting hit while making a catch, thus jarring the ball out.  If Bryant is still in the process of making the catch, then Shields’ having made contact just supports the no-catch call.

Okay – this could go on for 17 pages.  Rather than do that, I hope you faithful readers will consider the thoughts laid out before you, and share what you think in the comments below.  First, though, I’d like to leave you with these words from Steve Politi, sportswriter on (you know, cause Gov. Christie made the game a bit more interesting to the Garden State).  Steve has a lot of interesting things to say, and you could check out his full article here.  This excerpt, though, perfectly articulates what a lot of people are thinking.

Right or wrong, how does the NFL have a rule that would turn a brilliant athletic play — the entire point of the sport — into an incompletion? How does the NFL let something that made millions of people around the world yell “WHOA!” one minute become an aggravated “HUH?” the next?  I’ve heard the explanations…I think I understand why…That doesn’t mean it makes any sense.