Yesterday, ProFootballTalk talked to Rich McKay, the NFL’s Competition Committee chair, about the catch/no-catch thing. You should watch/listen to the whole thing, but here’s a money quote:
That rules has gotten more complicated as we've gotten into super slow-mo. As in the Lance Moore play where literally, people look at that frame-by-frame and go "Well, that's a catch," and then you turn it on full speed and go, "Eh, that's not a catch."
This is valid. With people at home watching on 60” plasmas getting digital frame-by-frame replay ability, there’s an ability to split hairs finely—so finely it transcends what’s possible to see at full speed, divorcing these players from the flow of time. If a player only possessed a ball for 1/24th of a second, did he really possess it?
I’m glad they decided to take a step back to the fundamental concept of a catch, and apply it to all the catch rules going forward. As I’ve said, there were multiple different rules, and multiple different (conflicting) phrases governing the same play. So, McKay says, they started from the three fundamental elements of a catch: you have to get two hands firmly on the ball, be in-bounds, and have a “time element:” an affirmative moment where there’s no doubt that the player has the ball and could do something with the ball.
Further, I agree with the idea that the burden should be on the receiver, not the refs: catch the ball, then keep catching the ball until everyone knows for damn sure that you caught the ball. If you catch a touchdown, hold on to that ball until you can walk over and flip it to the ref. Now that everyone knows full well that just catching the ball, coming down with two feet, your knee, your butt, and one hand isn’t enough to prove possession, nobody has an excuse going forward.
That all having been said? Calvin Johnson caught that ball for a touchdown. I know it, you know it, and the side judge with an unobstructed, close-up view of the whole thing knew it—emphatically signalling the touchdown. The only slow-mo, post-hoc lawyering that occurred was done by the referee, and by Mike Pereira. Everyone who it at full speed, including the players, announcers, coaches, fans, and refs, knew what happened. It was only in the super-slow-mo frame-by-frame that words were parsed, and truth was made into lies. That was a catch, and a touchdown, and the Lions won that game. Period.