The reversal that effectively ended the Cowboys chance to continue their season was hard to accept. Any person in the world that knows even a little about the game of football would call Dez Bryant’s leaping grab, towards the end of the Cowboys/Packers game, a catch. It was a remarkably athletic play; his efforts on all aspects of that play were simply extraordinary. There is a however to it all that would leave the average, casual fan scratching their heads. The rule that overturned Dez’s grab is meant to take the official’s judgment out of the call. The rule in question is #8, Article 3, Item 1. Here is full text if that Article taken from the NFL Rule book:

Rule 8 Forward Pass, Backward Pass, Fumble:
“Article 3 Completed or Intercepted Pass. 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:
(a) secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
(b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
(c) maintains control of the ball long enough, after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, to enable him to
perform any act common to the game (i.e., maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it,
advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.).
Note 1: It is not necessary that he commit such an act, provided that he maintains control of the ball long
enough to do so.
Note 2: 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 other than his hands
to the ground, or if there is any doubt that the acts were simultaneous, it is not a catch.
Item 1: Player Going to the Ground. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or
without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.”

If you look at Item 1 (bolded), then yes it was an incomplete pass. The ball came loose from what appears to be contact with the ground. But here is where it gets interesting: what did you read ABOVE Item 1? Are you confused? Rule 8, Article 3, (a)-(c) opens the flood gates of official’s judgment.

So which is it? NFL players are big, fast and strong. They can do things with their bodies that the average person could never do. I have watched Dez’s catch over and over. In a matter of seconds the man jumps about 3 and ½ feet in the air, catches the ball (over another man jumping in front of him), lands, takes 3 stumbling steps, and dives with the ball outstretched towards the end zone.

Bryant lands a mere 1 and ½ feet from the goal line. In landing, the ball moves. So, did he make a move that is “an act common to the game”? I would say so. Players dive for the end zone all the time. Did he have possession with both feet in bounds? Actually he had his feet down several times. Did he maintain the ball long enough? The man took 3 steps and dove! If he had dove and the point of the ball crossed the goal line, before it moved, would it have been a touchdown? YES.

You see Rule #8, Article 3, Item 1 would not have applied because in the act of diving for the end zone and reaching it, he is now a runner! As soon as a runner dives with the ball and breaks the plane of the goal, before he is down, it is a touchdown – no questions asked. On top of that, the play is dead as soon as the runner crosses the plane, so if the ball comes out at the point, it does not matter. With that said, in my opinion, Dez became a runner at the point he dove for the end zone, which is an “act common to the game” for sure. I can’t see how Rule #8, Article 3, Item 1 should then apply to his efforts to reach the goal line.

I know my analysis is technical. But, to me, this play actually is a judgment call and not black and white. The official has to decide if the player made a “football” move or an “act common to the game” after securing the ball. I mean after all, it was ruled a catch on the field by the official who was right there. Is it that that official, who clearly could see the ball move, thought Dez made a football move? It seems that way to me if he ruled it a catch. Some have called the subsequent reversal karma for the way Dallas won against Detroit. If you read my recap of the Cowboys v Detroit playoff game, you know that play/reversal. If you did not read it, well read it. I don’t believe all that much in karma, but I do believe there are rules that make things more complicated and not less.

This game had its share of other bad calls. One of note happened before the half when Randall Cobb appeared, from the front angle, to catch a low pass. However, the rear angle clearly showed the ball bounce in before Cobb gets his hands under the ball. The Cowboy’s players, near Cobb, were all pointing to the ground. The call was ruled a completed pass on the field and, to my dismay, the referee came back from the review of the play and upheld the ruling on the field of a completed pass. The Packer’s went on to kick a field goal before half.

Overall, in the last two weeks of the NFL playoffs, the real shame is that what people remember and are talking about is not the play on the field, but the calls the officials are making and the gray area of particular rules. A football game is a collection of plays over 60 minutes and no one play wins or loses a game. Yet, there are certainly some that stand out above the rest in determining who goes on and who goes home. Momentum can shift, games plan may need to change and when this happens as the result of a call (or non/missed call) an official makes – it is just a little bit harder to accept.