Hard-luck Lions got robbed by rule that defies logic

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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It's a shame that seven years ago someone defined a reception as having control of the ball all the way through the catch to the ground, because it cost the Detroit Lions a hard-fought victory on Sunday.

Common sense says Calvin Johnson's apparent touchdown in the Lions' 19-14 loss at Chicago was a great catch. Most observers saw it that way, whether it was fans sitting in a bar, the three former NFL players I was sitting with watching Sunday's action, or Bears players themselves.

I heard one coach say the ruling was "cut and dry," that he didn't need to even see the replay because it simply wasn't a catch. Of course, that was Bears coach Lovie Smith. But it's not a debate about whether Johnson caught the ball or not because, by rule, he didn't. The receiver "must maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire process of the catch," explained referee Gene Steratore.

The bigger question is: Have we defined a catch in a way that eliminates plays logic says were good?

It's doubtful members of the competition committee will review the play in the offseason, but they should. They need to sit down with an open mind and realize that when a player has control of the ball, has two feet down in the end zone, goes to a knee before rolling over to his side, and palming the ball to the ground -- as Johnson did on Sunday -- it should be ruled a catch.

Think about it. When a running back dives into the end zone from the 1-yard line, breaks the plane, and the ball falls out of his hands, it's a touchdown. There seems to be an inconsistency about rushing for a touchdown and trying to catch a touchdown pass in the end zone. Slow-motion replay has done more to distort what a catch is and what it isn't. Full control of the ball in real time would indicate Johnson scored. If you slow replays down enough most receptions appear not to be in full control as the receiver hits the ground.

For the Lions, who also lost QB Matthew Stafford to a shoulder injury, it has to be frustrating. They fought hard the entire game and had a chance at victory. Hopefully it doesn't turn their season into another mudslide.

For the Bears, the rule worked in their favor. They won fair and square, but is what we all witnessed -- a play that defied common sense -- good for the game? For one week, at least, and for a team that deserved better, it wasn't.

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