Is there a Patriots conspiracy in the NFL, or is the “Catch Rule” just dumb?

Jesse James, TE for Steelers, reaches for touchdown vs Patriots.

Sunday’s Patriots / Steelers game was the best and the worst of professional football.

Huge stakes.  Cold, December football.

Late game heroics.

And then officiating deciding the game.

Not what football fans signed up for.

The Steelers gave up a late touchdown to Tom Brady because, well, that’s what Brady does.

But the Patriots defense whiffed on a crossing route to JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the Steelers ended up with the ball at the Patriots 10 yard line.

That’s when this happened.

(Some of these embedded videos may be blocked because of NFL content, but you can click to open them in YouTube.)

Steelers Tight End Jesse James appears to score a touchdown, but the play is overturned and the pass ruled incomplete, as he lost control of the football after he hit the ground.

I immediately tweeted this:

There is no shortage of people on both sides of this argument.

Tony Dungy explained why football fans were so frustrated with the call on NBC’s “Football Night in America” after the game:

“This is absolutely the right call based on the rule, but I tell you, Dan, flag football, high school football, college football. Any place you play football, other than the NFL, that’s a touchdown.”

So let’s have the NFL’s senior VP of officiating explain the call for you:

Notice what he said there?

“…as you see here, Roethlisburger completes a pass to James…”

That’s what makes this so insane.

Even the referee admits that he caught the pass, which is what makes it so hard for casual fans, and even die-hards, to understand.  “Wait, he caught it, but it’s not a catch?

It makes it even harder to understand, especially after this play happened on the exact same day, and was actually ruled a completion:

Damiere Byrd and the Packers defensive back appear to have the ball at the same time, the ball flies up in the air, and Byrd does not retain possession until he’s on his back, out of bounds.  But it was ruled a touchdown.

So exactly what is the catch rule?

We can find that here:

I have personally added the emphasis here.

A player who makes a catch may advance the ball. A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:

  1. secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
  2. touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
  3. maintains control of the ball after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, until he has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps (see 3-2-7-Item 2).

Note: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.

If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any part of his body to the ground, it is not a catch.

Item 1. Player Going to the Ground. A player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner. 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 until after his initial contact with 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.

Item 2. Sideline Catches. If a player goes to the ground out-of-bounds (with or without contact by an opponent) in the process of making a catch at the sideline, he must maintain complete and continuous control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, or the pass is incomplete.

Item 3. End Zone Catches. The requirements for a catch in the end zone are the same as the requirements for a catch in the field of play.

Note: In the field of play, if a catch of a forward pass has been completed, after which contact by a defender causes the ball to become loose before the runner is down by contact, it is a fumble, and the ball remains alive. In the end zone, the same action is a touchdown, since the receiver completed the catch beyond the goal line prior to the loss of possession, and the ball is dead when the catch is completed.

Item 4. Ball Touches Ground. 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.

Item 5. Simultaneous Catch. If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control. If the ball is muffed after simultaneous touching by two such players, all the players of the passing team become eligible to catch the loose ball.

Item 6. Carried Out of Bounds. If a player, who is in possession of the ball, is held up and carried out of bounds by an opponent before both feet or any part of his body other than his hands touches the ground inbounds, it is a completed or intercepted pass. It is not necessary for the player to maintain control of the ball when he lands out of bounds.


Any forward pass (legal or illegal) is incomplete and the ball is dead immediately if the pass strikes the ground or goes out of bounds. An incomplete pass is a loss of down, and the ball returns to the previous spot.

Note: If there is any question whether a forward pass is complete, intercepted, or incomplete, it is to be ruled incomplete.


So, let’s apply those things to the Jesse James catch / non-catch.

  1. He catches the ball
  2. His knee hits the ground
  3. He turns up field
  4. Extends to the goal line
  5. Breaks the plane
  6. Elbow hits… and then the ball is bobbled, but he never loses possesion of the football.

Fans look at this and have always been taught, at all levels of football, that this is a catch.

But it’s not.


What makes this worse is the fact that it is the 3rd game this season that the Patriots have won based on a review by Alberto Riveron, the NFL’s senior VP of officiating.

Ed Bouchette, a writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, wrote an interesting article that included all of the games that Riveron has influenced for the Patriots this season.

Sept 24th, 2017: Brandin Cooks touchdown catch vs Texans

Notice at the end of the catch, as he’s landing out of bounds, where the ball is lost and hits the ground before the player does.

According to Bouchette, “An NFL source told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Cooks’ catch remained a touchdown because there was no good video angle that showed him losing control of the ball when he hit the ground.”

Right.  Gotchya.


Oct 15, 2017: Austin Seferian-Jenkins 4-yard touchdown catch ruled a fumble

Seferian-Jenkins catches the ball, and appears to regain possession as he’s breaking the plane of the end zone.

The play was ruled a touchdown, which, with a converted PAT, would have cut the Patriots lead to 24-21 with [8:24] left in the game.  Instead, it remained 24-14 and the Patriots were awarded the ball.

And the 3rd was, of course, the Jesse James overturned touchdown from Sunday’s 27-24 Patriots win in Pittsburgh.

The last 2 seasons, the talk was about an NFL conspiracy against the Patriots, as Tom Brady was suspended for 4 games due to “Deflategate.”

Now, we’ve got the complete opposite situation, as fans believe that there is a conspiracy favoring the Patriots.

Either way, it’s not something with which the NFL wants to be involved.


Catch Rule examples

The catch rule is something that’s been talked about over and over, and over again through the years.

The rule first became a huge deal back in 2010 as Calvin Johnson appeared to catch a game-winning touchdown for the Lions vs the Bears.

Johnson catches the ball, obviously has possession of it, takes several steps, then loses the ball as it makes contact with the ground while he’s turning around to celebrate.

It reared its ugly head again in the 2014 NFL playoffs, as Dez Bryant appeared to catch a pass that would have setup the Cowboys for a go-ahead score against the Packers, but the catch was ruled incomplete.  He appeared to catch the ball and make a “football move” towards the endzone, but as he fell to the ground, the ground knocked the ball loose.

If you look at the “rule,” then you can justify it being incomplete.

But to anybody that has watched the game of football, those are catches.

On top of that, you have plays like this touchdown pass to Golden Tate that was ruled an interception on the field, but was overturned and ruled a touchdown.

How long does a player have to have the ball to be established as a runner?

According to the rule, that is a touchdown catch.

To a casual fan that has always watched football, that’s an interception, because Tate did not have the ball long enough to establish possession.


At the end of the day, all fans want is for a catch to be a catch.  Nobody would have argued that any of the incompletions were not actually catches, had they been ruled catches.  Nobody would have argued that the catches were incomplete, had they been ruled incomplete.

Nobody is saying that the referees didn’t apply the “rule” correctly, according to their judgement.

Just make football easier for casual fans.

That’s all anyone really wants.

About Gary Segars 1442 Articles
Gary began his first website in 1998 as a sophomore in high school, writing reviews of cds and live shows in the Memphis area. He became editor of his college newspaper, then moved towards a career in music.He started the infamous blog during the 2006 football season, and was lucky enough to get into blogging just before the coaching search that landed Nick Saban at Alabama. The month and a half long coaching search netted his site, which was known for tracking airplanes, over 1 million hits in less than 90 days. The website introduced Gary to tons of new friends, including Nico and Todd, who had just started the site diving into more than just Alabama news, Gary started up his first installment of in 2012. After keeping the site quiet for a while, it was started back up in April 2016. Gary then joined forces with high school friend Chris Giannini and began a podcast during the 2016 football season that runs at least 2 times a week, focusing on college football, NFL football, and sports wagering, and diving into other sports and pop-culture topics.E-mail: Twitter: @GaryWCE