With NFL rules, there's often a catch whether someone actually made a catch.
Ask Calvin Johnson.
When the Detroit receiver came down in the end zone with the football in the final seconds of the Lions' opener at Chicago, the victory celebrations began for the visitors. A little too soon, it turned out.
Replays show Johnson seemingly so eager to celebrate that he doesn't complete the catch according to NFL rules. Yes, it sure looks like he's done the job and the Lions have roared back to beat the Bears, but, no, the finishing touch is missing.
And that's all that matters to the officials, who look to see if in the original momentum of going to the ground, the receiver comes to a complete stop on the ground with the ball. As long as he is still moving, the continued momentum, or his rolling over, are part of the process of making the catch.
"What we try to do with the rule is eliminate the gray area," NFL director of officiating Carl Johnson said. "That way, it is very clear for our officials to officiate. I was on the field for nine seasons and that is the way we have officiated that play since I have been in the league.
"All our officials look at is when the action ends, does he have the ball?"
Unlike a runner breaking the plane of the goal line for a touchdown — another rule that sparks controversy — a receiver in the end zone is required to secure the ball, get two feet inbounds and, if he goes to the ground, have complete control of the ball in doing so.
Calvin Johnson did everything but the latter, according to the rule. As Carl Johnson suggests, maybe the Detroit wideout should have "handed the ball to the official. Some players automatically do that and then go celebrate with their teammates."
The clamor over whether it should have been a touchdown is not lost on Carl Johnson, who took over this year from the retired Mike Pereira. Nor is it lost on Pereira.
"I am not surprised at the uproar," Carl Johnson said. "It reminds me of the tuck rule, which a lot of people didn't know when it became a headline. But it was properly ruled on the field. Now, when it happens, it's a nonevent because the fans know it."
Pereira also references the tuck rule, the first thing that made Tom Brady famous back in 2002.
"Yes, it's the same as with the tuck rule, and that was not one of the most understood rules in the game," said Pereira, now the officiating analyst for Fox. "The networks slow down the play in such slow motion it seems like he has it forever. You see that in real time it's nearly simultaneous that the ball bounces out very shortly after he hits the ground."
Cris Carter, one of the NFL's leading all-time receivers with 1,101 catches, was known for his ability to make spectacular grabs. He also prided himself on knowing the rules, and he's not so sure some of today's top pass catchers are so knowledgeable.
Carter notes there are two sets of rules, one for the 100 yards of the field and one for the 10 yards of the end zone. If a player doesn't know all of those rules, he is doing himself and his team a disservice.
"To be a craftsman, you have to know all those things," Carter said. "That's why they bring the referees at practices and in training camps, so you know what they are trying to do."
Carter said when he played, he'd notice teammates nodding off during meetings with the officials.
"They probably don't know the rules as well as they should have. I think (Calvin Johnson) doesn't know the rule and when he pulls the ball away from the DB, you should hand it to the ref," Carter said. "When you are in the end zone, the only thing without argument is when the ball does not move and you then hand it to the ref."
Arguments over such catches and non-catches have existed for decades. Soon after the 1999 NFC title game in which Tampa Bay's Bert Emanuel was denied a critical catch on a late drive when the tip of the ball touched the ground, the NFL's competition committee tweaked the rule about possessing the ball on a reception.
In the San Diego-Oakland opener last season, the Raiders' Louis Murphy had a catch similar to Johnson's ruled a drop. Lots of uproar — temporarily.
"Yeah, it seemed like a big thing in Week 2 and then as the season went on, it kind of was sent to the wayside," Pereira said.
Carter doesn't think the catch rule will be re-examined. Pereira believes the competition committee will discuss it.
"The committee is very thorough and a lot of issues are discussed and I know they will get back to it and talk about it this year," Pereira said. "I would not be confident they will come up with any real change."
That would disappoint Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, who believes the Lions were robbed.
"There's a common sense part that's missing in this league," Del Rio said. "When I saw Detroit play ... how that's not a catch, that's incredible."