Whose Catch Is It, Anyway?

Once again the NFL has updated it’s rules and regulations for the 2017 season. The biggest one that they focused on was penalizing end zone celebrations more. Taunting has already been established as a big no-no, and pretty much any celebration where a player touches the opposing team’s player is an automatic flag. Originally it seemed that almost any touchdown celebration was going to become a penalty, but the major rule change was that no celebrations can be “sexual”. It can probably go down as the unofficial Antonio Brown rule. Of course there were slight changes to what possession is, which seems to contradict every single year. Week 6 gave us the worst example of this complaint, and it has been lingering for years around the NFL. What in the hell exactly is a catch?

A good place to start is to reference what the official NFL rule book has listed as a catch. The explanation goes as follows:

A player who makes a catch may advance the ball. A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:

  1. secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
  2. touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
  3. maintains control of the ball after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, until he has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps (see 3-2-7-Item 2).

Note: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.

If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any part of his body to the ground, it is not a catch.

The first two parts make sense. As long as someone behind the line of scrimmage (assuming the QB) throws a ball forward and another eligible receiver secures the ball without dropping it on the ground. The second part being that both feet are in bounds. Easy enough to understand, we’re on the same page thus far. The third part though… that’s the gray area that none of the officiating crews can agree on. There were three particular games where part 3 of the catch rule was stretched to it’s breaking point.

The Green Bay vs. Minnesota game is receiving huge buzz because Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in the first quarter, but the bigger story that no one wants to cover is how messed up the calls were on particular catches. There were four instances that the play was either challenged or reviewed by the booth to determine what the call was, and each time the outcome had everyone extremely confused. At one point Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, and Mike Pereira all were scratching their heads on the disagreement from the official’s calls. It got to a point that Aikman was flat out mocking the NFL that nobody can establish was an actual catch is. Here is a play that was set up to explain how it was: Green Bay were on the goal line and it was third down. Brett Hundley snapped the ball and threw a forward pass to Ty Montgomery (part 1 of the rule) who was wide open. Ty Montgomery had both feet in bounds (part 2) and turned his body forward, fell down, was not touched, and then continued running towards the end zone. After the ball crossed the goal line it dropped out of his hands, and although initially called a touchdown, the ruling was overturned from the review. The question though, is what overturned it? According to part 3 of the rules Ty Montgomery he held the ball long enough to become an established runner, both feet were on the ground, he was capable of avoiding impeding contact, tucked the ball, and turned up field. The only time the ball hit the ground was already when the ball crossed the goal line, which has already been established is considered a touchdown. At one point was there an infraction to cause an over ruling towards the play? The Minnesota Vikings also were handed a slap in the face with a play where Adam Thielen caught a ball, and despite his hands remained in control of the ball the entire time, neither feet touched out of bounds. They actually didn’t touch the ground at all, and because of such turn of events they ruled it not a catch. Before the official call, Troy Aikman reminded the audience how the NFL discarded the “force-out” rule, in which a defender can’t push an eligible receiver out of bounds in air to make it a non-catch. Despite the friendly reminder, the officials called it a non-catch. Perhaps that particular officiating crew didn’t get the memo that force-outs aren’t a thing anymore.

Things looked much worse in New York this past week, which now has the infamous call at the end of the game. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the tight end for the Jets, caught the pass and as he was falling across the goal line, as he was hitting the pylon, the ball switched hands without touching the ground, and it was ruled a fumble. I repeat: THE BALL DID NOT TOUCH THE GROUND. Just like the Ty Montgomery situation, Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught the ball. He turned up field. Planted both feet. Tucked the ball for possession. Was aware of on-coming traffic. Everything that is in the rules to be a catch, and was ruled as such, but was called a fumble anyway? It should be said that being a sports reffing official is a very tough job, and these guys are trained for years to do what they do. There is always a margin of error as they are only human, but there hasn’t been that bad of a call since Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game. It’s almost as if the officials want the conspiracy theorists to add more traction for the New England Patriots still cheating.

What is the solution for determining what is a catch? We can’t blame the officials on not being able the agree on the rules, because the rules are vague. There’s too many “if’s” for a solution that should be clear cut and precise. Growing up the ’90’s every kid playing back yard football understood a “two-step rule”. If a receiver has the ball in his hands, is creating momentum downfield, and the ball is still in his hands after two steps, then it is a catch. The official NFL rules on a catch has the core, but with all the additions over the past ten years or so the confusion is clearly shown each and every week. What was so wrong with what we determined back in the ’70’s and ’80’s as catch? Granted, defensive rules have changed since then as well to make the offense have an upper-hand, but at least there wasn’t a dispute. As much as having booth reviews, numerous camera angles, and coach challenges enhance the game experience, the only negative consequence is it has refs second-guessing themselves on what catches truly are. The NFL can fix this by making it very simple: if a receiver has the ball in his hands, it does not touch the ground, and both feet are in bounds, then it is a catch. That’s it. End of discussion. No team can say it can be unfair, because it would be ruled that way on both sides. Not only would we eliminate the debate each year, but the game would be faster paced. It would destroy these horrible calls we witnessed this past week. It would create bigger and better highlights. With so many talented quarterbacks and wide receivers in the league right now, it is such a waste to downgrade their potential and momentum by having everyone question whether or not some plays are considered a catch.

Unpredictability Wins Again

Week 5 is officially over, and while head coaches and fantasy football managers are already looking ahead to week 6, there should be something to be said about the first quarter of the regular season in football. Sure, we can scratch our head or curse out particular teams, but that’s why we have the term “any given Sunday”. The upsets, uncertainty, and the unknown is part of the fun on watching football every week. That’s why every year to add to the fun, I like to make early-season predictions and see how many of them come true. As much as I want to boast that a couple of my predictions have come true so far, there has been so much that has happened that any Magic 8-Ball or Nostradamus himself could not see coming. Some of it is jaw-dropping. Some are head-scratch worthy. Some are laughable. Either way, all of it has made the 2017 season extremely interesting to watch.

I believe the best way to start out is to showboat a little. Don’t worry, I’m not putting myself on a pedestal by means for claiming these. As much as I’m proud that I got these two correct, I am primarily humiliated by all the things I have guessed wrong. So without further ado, here is my proudest prediction of this season:

Carson Wentz will have a better season than Dak Prescott and no one will notice. Granted, I can’t get 100% on this one, because with the Eagles on top of the division at 4-1, I believe more people each week are becoming a believer in Wentz. I understand the hype on the Cowboys. They got Zeke for at least one more year without a suspension. Dak Prescott has more experience and is ready for year two in his tenure. Dez Bryant and Prescott seem to have developed a better chemistry with each other. The difference though, is that Wentz is already used to losing, and can handle his composure as such. Dak and Zeke don’t know what losing feels like following the number one seed in 2016. Sometimes the fall is more difficult than the climb up, and for the Cowboys in the NFC East that seems to be the case. A critical eye is still on Wentz though, considering that he started the season 4-2 last year and still ended at 6-10. What we’ve seen this year is a more improved and durable Carson Wentz, and I think he can lead his team much further.

The AFC South will be the most competitive division in the NFL. This prediction is still a work in progress. Depending on how the second half of the season goes, I could still be proven wrong on this one. Originally I said that the Tennessee Titans could steal this division and win it, but that was during the preseason when the Houston Texans were still going with Tom Savage as their quarterback. What I didn’t see coming was Deshaun Watson making his debut and absolutely rocking it, and I didn’t see Jacksonville leading the division. I knew their defense was going to be young and talented, but I didn’t expect them to be so dominant. I did an article ranking the top rookie running backs this season, and I made a mistake by rating Leonard Fournette so low, and Christain McCaffrey so high. Everyone didn’t have much hope for the Indianapolis Colts this year with Andrew Luck’s injury, but they’re winning games and Jacoby Brissett isn’t too shabby. The “weakest” team in the division right now is the Tennessee Titans, with their lackluster defense, their star quarterback Marcus Mariota is temporarily injured, and the most surprising is their complete lack of a run game. We all were expecting a Dallas Cowboys version of DeMarco Murray, and instead we got the Philadelphia Eagles version of him. The division is still wide open for the taking, and I believe that the second half of the season will follow suit. Titans will get Mariota back and have already begun to fix some of their holes. Colts will get Andrew Luck back which immediately changes their demeanor. Jaguars probably have the best defense in the AFC and they need to make sure Fournette doesn’t get hurt and make Blake Bortles a game manager. Texans have an exciting offense and a talented defense. They just need to keep it up all year. Put all four of those teams into the mix and every divisional game is going to be crazy at the end of the year, because they’re all playing for number one — and right now there is no definitive number one in that division. Every team theoretically is going to get better as the season goes on, and that’s why right now I’m making a new bold prediction: not one team in the AFC South will be below an 8-8 record.

Looking at things again, maybe those predictions only came out half right. Can I get a half-point for each? So I’m 1 for 2. You could look at it that I’m batting .500, or you could say that I’m only completing 50% of my throws. Whether you’re a half-full or half-empty type of perspective, there have been a lot of follies among the NFL that no one saw coming. Let’s start with the biggest one:

The Giants are 0-5. This is personally the biggest surprise to me. Mostly because I predicted the Giants to win the division, but a little bit because the last time the Giants went 0-5 was 1979. At least in that season they won out the rest of their games, but I’m skeptical that the Giants can pull that off considering that all their starting wide receivers are injured. That’s something else I’ve never seen in my life before. I’ve seen all five of the starting O-line get hurt, but I don’t think I’ve witnessed all starting wide outs getting hurt — and it happened the same game! What a bizarre season for the New York Giants.

The Jets have won 3 games. Even more crazy to me, as of right now they have a winning record. I predicted the New York Jets to be worst team in the NFL, even going as far as to say they might lose all 16 games. Instead, they’re one spot ahead of the Patriots in the division. Who saw the Pats being in third place at any point this year? Buffalo being the division leader isn’t too shocking. They’ve held that spot temporarily in previous seasons during the Tom Brady era, but what’s confusing is Buffalo looks pretty good this year. They beat the Denver Broncos, right after destroying the Dallas Cowboys. They snapped Atlanta Falcon’s win streak. After two huge wins for the Bills, they follow it up by losing to Cincinnati? What is this team’s identity?

Deshaun Watson. That’s all I have to say. The guy is incredible to watch, and has made Bill O’Brien look like a damn fool for not starting him in week 1. The Texans went from a rely-on-your-defense, don’t-make-mistakes-on-offense type of team to a don’t-count-us-out, we-can-score-35-on-you-in-a-blink-of-an-eye type of team. As a rookie, he went up against the Goliath’s of foes this year — New England and Kansas City — and despite losing those games he made it close. He’s absolutely capable of taking control of a game, getting the audience involved, and inspiring hope within Houston after the Hurricane Harvey disaster.

The Fall of Big Ben. We all saw the butt spanking the Jacksonville defense laid out on Pittsburgh. At Heinz Field no less, which is notorious for Roethlisberger playing at his absolute best. Instead, we got five interceptions, no touchdowns, and a very confused Steeler nation. Big Ben hasn’t been exactly elite level status so far all season, but what’s more surprising is Antonio Brown still is the leader in receiving yards despite that. Or perhaps the most surprising thing is Pittsburgh gave the Chicago Bears their first win on the year. It’s not all Ben’s fault though. Look at all the quarterbacks that came from the famous 2004 draft class. Big Ben, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers all aren’t performing this year. In fact, the best QB to come from 2004 this year is Tony Romo, as he became an immediate fan favorite announcer. Could it be the day has finally come? The day where the most famous quarterback draft class of all time has become old. I said it myself in a previous article, that Steelers are going Super Bowl or bust. They might not seem as dominant as we all predicted, but they are still the best team in their division, if that gives any type of indication how strong the AFC North really is this year.

Alex Smith for MVP. I’m always a big advocate for Andy Reid and I liked what Kansas City did in the off season, but I still didn’t see Alex Smith playing the best season of his life. When I first saw the articles popping up that Alex Smith is already an MVP candidate I didn’t want to believe it. Game managing Alex Smith? Defense reliant Alex Smith? I figured it was just the easy way out considering that the Chiefs are the only undefeated team left in the NFL, but looking at the numbers my eyes have been adjusted to the blurry frame I made for myself. Alex Smith has over 1,300 yards, 11 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, is passing an incredible 76% completion rating, and a whopping 125.8 QB rating. That is just insane numbers! To top it off as well, if Alex Smith isn’t the front runner for MVP, the next best candidate is Kansas City’s rookie running back Kareem Hunt. It’s no wonder why the Chiefs are undefeated this year. Now the question will be who can be the first team to take down this mighty colossus.

Going in to week 6 we have quite the story building among these franchises. Usually after week 8 a big turning point happens for a lot of teams, and I’m excited to see what this season will bring. The emulation of emotion between players of frustration, joy, persistence, fatigue, annoyance, and glee is being shown on the field even during the distractions of the politics being involved with the sport. Wipe away the small stain that is being forced on us through different outlets, and we still have what is the golden goose to us all: another great season of professional football. We remember this by the outstanding touchdown celebrations being presented to us each and every week. Keep it up guys, because that stuff alone is worth watching for.

The Chargers Are Shunned in L.A.

I want to invite you to take a trip down memory lane with me for a second. The year was 2016. Barack Obama was in the White House. Dabbing was beginning its decline in popularity to make way for fidget spinners. Colin Kaepernick still played in the NFL. The New York Giants players rented a yacht and left all their talent on it. But the biggest thing to remember from 2016 is that the Chargers were still in San Diego. The very idea left a bitter taste in the mouths of every San Diegian, and the taste never sweetened as time went on. The day that Alex Spanos revealed that he was moving the team from San Diego to Los Angeles the aggression and animosity towards the Chargers and the Spanos family grew so large that it could mean the end of the entire franchise all together.

To be fair, Spanos at least attempted to keep the team in beloved San Diego. He wanted to build a brand new stadium for Chargers, a team who hasn’t won their division since 2009, and after many meetings with Mayor Kevin Faulconer the city of San Diego decided to leave it up for a vote on whether or not to build an estimated $200 million stadium. November came, a new president became elected, and the referendum to build a new stadium for the Chargers in San Diego was a majority NO. Understandably, not every resident in the San Diego area is probably a Charger fan, or even a football fan for that matter. It makes sense on why bother raising taxes for a stadium that doesn’t necessarily have to be built? Most of the time fans enjoy their current stadium just for the history aspect. As for Spanos though, he already had a back up plan in case Faulconer wouldn’t allow a new stadium to be built in San Diego. Spanos and Mayor Eric Garcetti made an agreement to build a brand new stadium if the franchise moved to Los Angeles. Garcetti already was very vocal about wanting two teams back in L.A. to begin with. Oakland was his original choice, but after a deal was made for the Raiders to move to Las Vegas, it seemed all too perfect for the Chargers to move back to their original home again. Perfect for everyone except the Chargers fans.

During the off-season when the announcement hit that Alex Spanos was moving the franchise to Los Angeles the entire fan base of the Chargers erupted. They were livid, felt betrayed, and plagued all media sources to give their two cents on how the felt about the entire transaction. Some of the fans spread their faith and loyalty towards the Chargers no matter where they would go. Majority of fans renounced their patronage to the team, and decided to go towards the Bay Area to watch their football. The transition from San Diego to L.A. has definitely been a rocky one, with a fan base that’s not travelling with the team, but there also isn’t a place for the Chargers to play. Logically, it made sense for the Los Angeles Rams to share their temporary stadium with the Chargers the same way that the New York Giants and New York Jets share the same stadium, except the Rams owner Stan Kroenke wasn’t having any part of it. The best NFL and L.A. could come up with a temporary interim stadium for the poor Chargers was the Stub Hub Center, the home of the local soccer team L.A. Galaxy’s. The stadium is actually in Carson, a suburb that’s a half hour south of L.A. and a half hour west of Anaheim. The worst part is the stadium can only hold 27,000 seats, which is less than half of what the average stadium holds for every other NFL team.

The disaster of leaving San Diego has definitely shown in the attendance. Week 1 of the season was pretty much empty, and although the seats are being filled more and more every week, they aren’t being filled with Chargers fans — it’s the opposite team’s fan base! Talk about being embarrassed, being humiliated, and starting the season 0-4. That’s not to say that they haven’t been competitive in their games, but can you blame them not having the motivation? Los Angeles is a giant city, and within that city is a fan base from all 32 teams in the NFL. When the Chargers plays at “home” the people from L.A. that come to see them play in Stub Hub Center are literally fans of the opposing team. The Chargers don’t have a home field advantage, and part of that problem is purely that San Diego fans didn’t transfer at all. The L.A. Chargers have to start from scratch, as if they’re a brand new franchise, with an absolutely zero fan base in Los Angeles. On top of that, they’re competing with the L.A. Rams who have all the momentum. Not only did they have a small fan base to start off with — basically anyone who moved from the St. Louis area and now lives in Southern California — but right now the Rams are electric. Between Jared GoffTodd GurleySammy WatkinsCooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald this team is young, exciting, and most importantly: they’re winning. It’s a no-brainer that any new fans warming up to their new L.A. teams are gravitating towards the Rams versus a Chargers team that has zero wins.

The Chargers new stadium will get built… eventually. When it finally does get built in projected 2020, the Chargers will have a different team. Philip Rivers might not be around anymore, the coaching staff may be switched out, the whole division may have a new power surge. Through the uncertainty of the future, one thing is going to be the same: the absence of attendance at Chargers games. With the seats being as barren as San Francisco 49ers games, it makes a person wonder if the estimated $2.6 billion stadium is even worth it. Everyone loves new stadiums, and after the tape is cut and the shine wears off, the main thing will be whether or not the Chargers can win games. If they can’t, then this $2 billion investment might be the iceberg that sinks the franchise once and for all. If the San Diego fan base doesn’t start travelling to L.A., and the Los Angeles fan base still remain loyal to the Rams, it wouldn’t surprise anyone that Spanos decides to jump ship on the franchise entirely. Other owners have done it in the past, so it’s not an outlandish thought to have. Even if Spanos wants to keep an NFL franchise, or sell cheap and have it revamped, this could be the beginning of the end of the Chargers.

A brand new start may be exactly what the Chargers need. Unfortunately the Chargers would have to die out for it to happen, but the “new start” that they’re receiving in Los Angeles isn’t the answer. Perhaps the answer is for the Chargers to fold, a new franchise to emerge, and move to a new city with a brand new roster. It’s already happened in the past. The Houston Oilers became the Tennessee Titans. The Baltimore Ravens were originally the Cleveland Browns. If the Chargers were to crumble and resurface with a new look, a new logo, and a new city, that could be the restart that they truly need for a fan base to finally start following them. A new city is the first place to start, and the most promising city that could accept a franchise again would be St. Louis. Sounds crazy, right? They just lost their team to Los Angeles, so why wouldn’t they just keep the Rams in that case? Except if history has taught us anything, it’s already happened to Baltimore and Houston. So maybe not so crazy. It might take another 15 or 20 years before any of this to happen, but if it does start heading that direction and the Chargers really begin to struggle, at least San Diego fans can have their own moral redemption by telling Alex Spanos that maybe he should have never left.