Seifert looks at some plays that show the NFL is not consistent with its rule book, leading to problems on the field of play.
Sometimes it is my solemn duty to deliver bad news. Today is one of those days. The NFL, sorry to report, once again you cannot reliably tell us what a reception is. A growing murmur entered the public ear this week, just as the playoff race heats up and the biggest games of the year arrive.
Your shock and surprise are forgiven. After all, the NFL seemed to eliminate this problem in 2018 by rewriting the receptions rule, replacing its requirement to control the ball “throughout the catching process” with a three-step definition that made perfect sense. For most of the last three years, we have slept well.
But closer observers began to notice a shift outside of the rule book early this campaign, especially when receiving / incomplete decisions were up for review. And in Week 13, a member of the competition committee fired a subtle but public shot at the refereeing department of the NFL after one of those decisions. A few days later, a retired referee tweeted that league executives “either don’t know their own rule or are intentionally misusing it.”
Let’s see what happened and why we should be concerned.
In the second quarter of Sunday night’s AFC West game against the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw tight end Travis Kelce down the middle. Denver cornerback Kyle Fuller stole the ball shortly after Kelce got his hands on it, and Judge Carl Cheffers’ team ruled it was an incomplete pass. The Broncos coach, Vic Fangio, he challenged the call, saying Kelce actually got the catch and then fumbled. The Broncos would have taken control at about the 44th yard from the Chiefs if they had won the challenge.
The replay showed Kelce fulfilling the first two steps of the current catch rule. He gained control of the ball and had both feet on the field. All that was left was the third requirement, which the regulation defines as “any act common to the game (Guarding the ball, taking an extra step, turning or avoiding or guarding against an opponent). The rule continues: “It is not necessary for you to commit such an act, as long as you maintain control of the ball long enough to do so.”
In slow motion, viewers could definitely see Kelce take two steps, and it seemed like she took a third before losing the ball; that he also had it hidden. But the decision stood despite that third step. The referee analyst of ESPNJohn Parry was surprised.
“I’m looking at what says, ‘By the letter of the rule, that’s a catch, a fumble and a Denver ball,'” Parry said.
Parry was not the only one who believed the same. The Tennessee Titans coach, Mike vrabel, he was watching the game on his weekend off. Nine minutes after the refereeing department of the NFL posted an explanation on his Twitter account, stating that Kelce did not meet “the third element of a receiving time,” Vrabel responded. Newly appointed member of the NFL’s competition committee, Vrabel shared a screenshot of the rule, which in digested form notes that “time” can be considered a third element if you need an additional movement: trying to dodge the blow, a third step, walk the field, etc.
“I felt it was a good opportunity to remind everyone of the rules [y] the reception process, “Vrabel pointed out Monday.” That’s all it was … so everyone could understand what the process was. “
You don’t have to be an expert reader to understand Vrabel’s point. The rule of reception of the NFL, as written in the rule book, did not match his decision on Sunday, and his public explanation misstated the rule itself.
The NFL review is being conducted by three executives at the league’s command center in New York City.: Walt Anderson, Perry Fewell and Wayne Mackie. They often allow decisions to stand when they determine that there is no “clear and obvious” evidence to the contrary. But when Fewell posted a video Wednesday reiterating the decision to let the incomplete ruling stand, he didn’t mention that standard. Instead, he said: “It was determined that there was no time for an act common to the game before the ball was ripped from Kelce’s arm.”
That statement prompted retired referee Terry McAulay, now an NBC Sports analyst, to offer this comment on Twitter: “They have tripled their incorrect application of the rule that was changed in 2018 and is still in effect in 2021.”
Relying on “time” in many ways is another way of saying that players must maintain control of the ball throughout the catching process. In other words, it’s a reversion to the rule that the NFL removed in 2018.
You may be inclined to view this episode as a technical debate among a closed circle of stakeholders. I wish it were. This was not a sneaky philosophical debate. Nor is it simply that an official failed a decision on the field. The play was reviewed by the leaders of the NFL’s umpiring department and they made a thoughtful decision, one they publicly reinforced three days later. There were no lapses here. The NFL umpires upheld a decision that went against the rules, and that was alarming to many people in the league who assume the game is run according to the rules.
So what’s going on? In some way, we are seeing the fulfillment of a concern expressed by the former chief referee of the NFL, Dean blandino, who when the rule was changed in 2018 said: “They are just changing the debate.”
However, in a broader sense, the NFL has run into a dark moment. Admittedly, catching / not catching can be really difficult to determine on the field, and writing a rule that accounts for that is still a problem. On Sunday night, the NFL responded by creating a reality that it wanted regardless of whether it could be supported by the rule book, and it is not the first time it has done so this season.
To be fair, the pass to Kelce seemed like the kind of play that should be an incomplete pass. But the rules of the NFL allow it to be challenged, and slow motion should be considered in replay review. The action visible at the slowest speed satisfies all three elements of the catch rule.
A similar case occurred on Thanksgiving Day, when Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller appeared to catch and then drop a pass from Derek Carr after taking a third step. The Cowboys they recovered what appeared to be a fumble, but after a delay of 1 minute and 10 seconds, a duration that suggests the involvement of the NFL office, the pass was declared incomplete.
Likewise, the review confirmed a decision on an incomplete pass in Week 8 from Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold to wide receiver DJ Moore in the end zone. Replays showed that Moore was in control and had both feet on the field. Only after that point did he release the ball, which as a rule should have been irrelevant. Again, the element “time” was used to apply the 2018 rule.
Most fans of the NFL they could agree to the NFL manipulating its rules to achieve a result that matches what appeared to happen in live action. But what if you are the Broncos or any other team on the wrong side of that decision? They’re competing under a mutually agreed-upon set of rules, and on Sunday night, the Broncos were playing for first place in the AFC West. Fangio used one of his challenges and sacrificed time in anticipation of the application of the rules.
As a rule, if not for good sense, Broncos they should have taken possession of the ball in Chiefs territory at a 10-3 deficit. Who knows how the game would have developed. You can certainly understand why Vrabel felt compelled to speak under the circumstances.
I asked the NFL this week if you had changed your interpretation of the reception rule in this and other cases. His answer – “There is no change in the way the play is judged compared to what is in the rule book.”
One could argue for the use of “time” as the only possible third element of a reception, which would prevent moves like Kelce’s from being interpreted as complete. But a standard of time is exactly what forced officials, before 2018, to decide incomplete passes when the receiver lost control on the way to the ground. Regardless of that, it just doesn’t support the current rule.
“There is no question that the issue of clarity with the receiving rule has returned,” concludes Parry. “With 20 years of experience with the rule, if I am confused or lack clarity, I am sure that others, including coaches They will be too. The football gods have a way of looking and working. They wait for more important moments to send messages. Without a change, there is the possibility that the outcome of a playoff game will be affected by a play that is not judged by the rules. “
We all want to know that a game is run according to the rules. That’s not happening with the NFL’s receiving rule, for reasons that might make sense, but not according to any concept of fair play. The NFL may go into the offseason without a game being decided by such a play, but many might be concerned enough to share their concerns in public view. We should all pay attention.