Everyone's Gotta Play by the Rules

The NFL is constantly changing the rules of the game. Now, a field goal will always be worth 3 points, and a personal foul will always result in a 15 yard penalty. Those rules won’t change.

But here is a rule being hotly contested this week:

N.F.L. Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1: Going to the ground. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he 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, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.

What does all this mumbo jumbo mean? Basically, if a receiver catches a pass, but drops it upon his fall to the ground, it’s an incomplete pass.

This rule ripped the heart out of the Detroit Lions this week in this infamous clip:

If you had your eagle eyes on, you saw that Calvin Johnson caught a pass from the Lions QB, Shaun Hill. Then, as he went to the ground, he let the ball drop.

Next thing you know, the referee had declared the pass incomplete, and denied the game-winning touchdown for Lions—all based on N.F.L. Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1.

What can I say? That’s the rule, gals. Did Calvin Johnson have possession of the ball? Absolutely. I think he just figured the play was over, dropped the ball, and got up to celebrate VICTORY.

But he let it drop a little too soon, and the Lions lost on the most questionable ruling of the day. I think Calvin Johnson will hold onto his passes a little tighter for the rest of the season, or at least until the NFL decides to change the rules again.

For more about the Ground Rule Controversy (a continuing theme from the 2009 season), check out this article from the New York Times:


And to the Detroit Lions, I wish nothing but the best as they continue their season and attempt to break their 21 game road losing streak. Sorry that the rules gotcha this time, Detroit!


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