In case you have been living under a rock, the Lions lost to the Bears on Sunday by a score of 19-14. In the final 30 seconds of the game, however, it appeared that Calvin Johnson caught a touchdown pass that would have given Detroit the late lead and put them well on their way to opening the season with a win. Johnson went up and caught the ball, landed with both feet inbounds, fell to the ground on his butt and then flipped over and lost control of the ball when he hit it on the ground. Because the officials determined that he didn't complete the entire "process" of the catch, the pass was ruled incomplete.
As expected, this call has generated a lot of controversy, with some believing the rule is the problem, others thinking the interpretation of the rule was botched by the officials and some even thinking that Calvin Johnson was at fault for not knowing that he needed to complete the "process" of the catch. The debate that has emerged over this rule/call quickly became one of the biggest storylines of the first week of the season, as all of the highlight shows were debating it yesterday afternoon/night.
While Lions fans and most football fans believe that Detroit was jobbed by the officials, referee Gene Steratore's explanation is that the correct call was made based on the NFL's rules for a catch.
Q. What is the rule used on the near Detroit touchdown at the end of the game?
A. The ruling is that in order for the catch to be completed he has got to maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire process of the catch.
Q. He was on his behind before he rolled over. If he stayed on his behind would it have been a touchdown?
A. No. We don’t play with the two feet or one knee or anything of that scenario. We’re talking now about the process of the catch. He’s catching the football, as he goes to the ground, he must maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire process. So as he continues to fall if he fell with two feet and his elbow hit the ground and came out it would be incomplete.
Q. It looked like he had the ball up in one hand while on his rear end, but there was continuation?
A. Well, the process was not finished until he finished that roll and the entire process of that catch.
Mike Pereira, the former NFL Vice President of Officiating, backed up the notion that the correct call was made both during and after the game, and Lions head coach Jim Schwartz didn't protest it afterward.
"The officials officiate. They made the call and that’s the way they saw it. When he goes to the ground, as part of the catch and the touchdown, he has to come down with the ball. He didn’t come down with the ball. That play alone didn’t cause us to lose the game."
Calvin Johnson, the player involved in the controversial play, declined to comment on it other than saying, "It is what it is. You have to move on."
The Lions will undoubtedly move on as they shift their concern to Matthew Stafford's health and the Eagles game on Sunday, but fans and media pundits will continue to debate this call in the foreseeable future, as the finish in Chicago is a tough one to swallow for fans and this rule is a very important one to pay attention to for the rest of the NFL.