The Patriots defeated the Steelers last night to regain the #1 seed in the AFC. They accomplished this, in part, because of the proper application of NFL rules.
Yeah, I know. That sentence seems weird to me too. I’d like to think that most victories are because of the proper application of league rules. But, I digress. Because, you know exactly what I’m talking about. After the Patriots took a three-point lead with about a minute left in the game, the defense had a bit of a brain cramp. They allowed a slant play to gain almost 70 yards, giving the Steelers first and goal at the ten yard line. Then, on the next play they allowed Jesse James to stand wide open at the goal line. Then things got weird.
James got the ball, spun to the ground, lunged for the goal line and stuck the ball into the end zone. There, the ball wobbled a bit as it hit the ground. After a long review to confirm the score, everyone began to realize that maybe people didn’t think it was a completed catch. And, lo and behold, that was what the call was. The old “catch-not a catch” rule reared its ugly head. It was ruled that since James was going to the ground, he needed to complete the catch before lunging for the goal. He didn’t. Incomplete.
Two plays later another QB tried a goal line slant against the Patriots, and was picked off to snatch defeat from the arms of victory.
This isn’t the first time that this rule has affected a play, or a game. It’s one of the reasons that when asked about his catch in the Super Bowl, Julian Edelman said he thought he caught it, but nobody really knows what a “catch” is these days. But, even though it initially causes some confusion, most impartial observers agree that they have been properly applying a bad rule.
It’s the sort of bad rule that having instant replay forces you into sometimes. Where suddenly you have to define something like “a catch” not in terms of looking at it and just knowing he caught it. No, you need a frame by frame definition. Can the ball move at all? By how much? How many milliseconds before the knee goes down? I think most everyone seeing it at full speed knew it was a catch, but in slow motion knew it wasn’t. That’s sort of an annoying rule.
Like I said, though, it’s a byproduct of instant replay. Major League Baseball had a similar issue when they first allowed replay review. They had to define things like “a catch” Was it when the ball entered the glove? When it hit the back of the glove? Did the glove have to fold in around the ball? What frame of video showed the catch? They also had trouble with the “transfer” rule. When did a player drop a ball when trying to throw it as opposed to trying to catch it? MLB really botched the first attempt at the transfer rule. Basically the way they wrote it, throwing the ball back to the infield constituted not catching it.
But, because MLB is a competitive sports league, they looked at changing the rule so it made sense. Having seen it in action, they knew examples of what they wanted the rule to look like and changed the wording to match. It was so important to them that they made the amazing decision to change the wording mid season. So now a catch that looked like a catch was ruled a catch.
So what has the NFL done about their catch rule? Absolutely nothing.
Because they don't care. They're not a competitive sports league. Every year they become more like WWE. They're basically the live version of fantasy football. It's just something for people to watch and bet on.
Because a competitive league doesn't suspend its best player for no reason. It doesn't take away draft picks if a team is doing well. It doesn't pick one team to be a villain just to help ratings. And, they certainly don't allow something as crucial as catching the football to be ruled so awkwardly.
When do you do all those things? When you just want viewers. When you need something for people to talk about. When you need a Kylo Ren for every Rey. When you want controversy to rule the water cooler in the morning. Any controversy.
So the NFL is thrilled this morning. They don't care that one of their best teams lost because of a screwed up rule. They don't care that it threw the balance of power in the AFC from one team to another. They don't care that one team basically grabbed a folding chair to smack the other team with. They just care that EVERYONE is talking about it today.
The WWE should be so lucky.