The argument of what constitutes an NFL catch was again at the forefront when Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant made arguably the most acrobatic haul of the season in Saturday’s Wild Card Round win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Bryant snagged a perfectly placed fade from Ben Roethlisberger in the corner of the end zone but ran out of real estate as his momentum carried him to the ground, forcing him to pin the ball against his hamstrings as he somersaulted out of bounds.
The CBS telecasters didn't heavily question the call, as it appeared that Bryant maintained possession while going out of bounds. However, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said he believes it wasn’t a catch Friday.
"If I just had a blank slate and I could say, ‘Do you think it’s a catch or not a catch?’ I would said no catch,” Blandino said, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. "But the ruling on the field was a catch, and we have to see clear and obvious evidence that it’s not a catch."
Here is a look at the play in live action and in slow motion, courtesy of the NFL:
Blandino elaborated that it isn’t a debate over the catch rule, but rather replay, meaning that there would be no way to overturn the call without indisputable evidence:
Is there indisputable evidence to overturn the ruling on the field of a catch? It was ruled a catch on the field, so the basic premise of replay since its inception is the call on the field is presumed correct unless we have indisputable visual evidence that it is incorrect, then we can make a change. You watch the play live, and the question is going to be control. Initial control.
Bryant is going to pin the ball against his leg . . . and then as he rolls over he’s going to maintain that control. And again the issue, did he have control with the right foot down? There is some movement, Slight movement does not necessarily mean loss or lack of control. He pins the ball against his leg there. Is the foot still down as he starts to go to the ground? . . . Again, not indisputable.
The Steelers won, 18-16, and while they may have scored on another play—Bryant’s catch was on 2nd-and-goal—they needed that touchdown to advance to the divisional round.
The Dallas Cowboys weren’t as fortunate last year, when they lost to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round on a controversial ruling involving receiver Dez Bryant, whose fourth-down catch at the 1-yard line while trailing 26-21 was overturned in the final minutes, essentially ending the game.
The group—which includes Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian; former head coaches Ken Whisenhunt, Jim Schwartz and Joe Philbin; former receiver James Thrash; and former side judge Tom Finken—held its first meeting earlier this month prior to the Wild Card Round. Packers receiver Jordy Nelson attended, as did Hall of Fame receivers Cris Carter and Tim Brown, among others.
While fans, coaches and players were already debating the catch rule before Bryant’s amazing play Saturday—often in a confusing light on game-determining plays—it’s encouraging to see the NFL doing its part to address the rule and gauge what changes may best benefit the league moving forward.