In a dramatic season opener, Detroit Lions fans learned the hard way the “process” needed to earn a touchdown. With only 31 seconds left on the clock, second-string quarterback Shaun Hill launched a 30-yard pass to Calvin Johnson in the end zone. Despite catching the ball with both hands and maintaining control until both he and the ball touched the ground, the pass was deemed incomplete on the field. A subsequent booth review upheld the field call, stating that the catch process had not been completed. The Lions went on to lose the Sept. 12, 2010, opening to the Chicago Bears 19-14.
How the Catch Process Works
According to officials, Johnson did not complete the catch “process.” That is, he did not maintain possession of the ball during the entire catch. However, replay after replay showed Johnson clearly in control of the ball all the way to the ground.
Johnson cleared two defenders to grab the ball with both hands. As he came down, he shifted the ball to one hand. Johnson’s feet both came down, followed by the rest of his body. Finally, the ball, still firmly held in one hand, hit the ground. At this point, Johnson let go of the ball and stood to celebrate.
While one official called the pass a touchdown, it was quickly ruled incomplete. Apparently, the referee did not think Johnson had finished the catch process. However, he was on the ground, the ball was on the ground and the play seemed to be over. Perhaps the officials were hoping that he would sit on the ground with the ball and sing it a lullaby to prove he had possession and had finished the “process.”
Lions’ Reaction to Incomplete Touchdown Pass
After the game, head coach Jim Schwartz seemed to agree that Johnson had not finished the catch process. He was quoted as saying, “The rule is if you are going to the ground in the process of making the catch you need to finish with the football, and we didn’t finish with the football.”
However, in Johnson’s case, he wasn’t lunging for a ball; he clearly had control of a football he had gone up to meet.
To many viewers, it appeared that Johnson let go of the ball at the end of the play simply because he was excited to make the touchdown, not because he lacked control. In a post-game interview, Johnson concurred, stating, “I figure if I got two feet and a knee down, to me that is a catch that’s why I got up and took off.”
In the end, it appears that the Bears won because of a technicality. It also begs the question of whether the NFL has become too nit-picky when it comes to rules and definitions. In any other game, a pass caught in the end zone with two hands would be ruled a touchdown. Maybe it’s time for the NFL to forget the “process” and just let these guys play ball.
Lions v. Bears NFL Game, Aired 1pm EST on Fox
Albom, Mitch. “Your eyes don’t lie: Lions’ Calvin Johnson clearly made a game-winning catch.” Detroit Free Press. September 13, 2010 (http://www.freep.com/article/20100913/COL01/9130483/1001/news/Your-eyes-dont-lie-Lions-WR-clearly-made-catch)