NFL Reception Rules Leave Bears Wondering What Constitutes A Catch

By Chris Emma—

(CBS) Bears coach John Fox still hasn’t seen video of the play that severely damaged tight end Zach Miller’s left leg and forced him into emergency vascular surgery for a torn artery Sunday. He plans to never watch it, but many Bears have.

Miller’s health remains top of mind at Halas Hall, but the Bears also returned to work Monday wondering what defines a clean reception in the aftermath of the scary play in which Miller was seriously hurt while appearing to make a touchdown catch in the third quarter of the 20-12 loss to the Saints. The play was initially ruled a touchdown reception on the field before being overturned to an incomplete pass upon video review.

Bears players remain upset by that reversal from the league office. That includes Miller, who earlier this week from his hospital bed grabbed the phone from his wife when Fox called and argued about the ruling with his coach. During a team meeting Monday reviewing the game, the process of completing a catch was discussed.

The details of what constitutes a clean reception are murky for the Bears and certainly around the league, too.

“I don’t really think anybody knows what a catch is anymore,” tight end Daniel Brown said. “I looked at the replay, but I didn’t want to look at it because it brings back memories. I’m not really sure. I thought it was a catch. But the (league) ruled it otherwise and we have to respect their call. I’m not really sure what the clear rule is. Maybe, complete control? I don’t ever know.

“The main thing is going to be what our coaches emphasize – catch to tuck, all the way to the ground. Make sure that you put it away fast, hold onto it. I guess the main point is to not have any room for it to be overturned. Make sure when you secure it, it’s high and tight. Make sure there’s no grey area.”

Rookie receiver Tanner Gentry is still learning the details of completing a catch – something different from the college game to the NFL.

“You just want to always try to come up with the ball and secure it all the way,” Gentry said. “But it’s tough when guys are hanging on you and it’s a contested catch. It’s tough but try to do your best to secure it all the way through.

“In the heat of the moment, you’re just trying to secure the ball. Sometimes it moves around a little bit.”

That all played out on Miller’s controversial play Sunday. Head referee Carl Cheffers and his crew had initially ruled it to be a catch and touchdown, but the call was overturned by league review in New York.

In an “Official Review” video released Wednesday, NFL vice president of officiating Alberto Riveron said that the ball wasn’t fully controlled by Miller before he contacted the ground, so when the ball was ruled to have touched the ground as his body landed, it was an incomplete pass. Miller gathering possession as he rolled over and then releasing the ball as he was seated on the turf were therefore insignificant.

The NFL’s reception rules have been altered in various form ever since Week 1 of the 2010 season, coincidentally a play that benefited the Bears. On what would’ve been the go-ahead score for the Lions in the final minute, it was determined that Calvin Johnson didn’t complete the process of his catch. After having clear possession of the ball, Johnson released the football from his right hand while getting himself up to celebrate.

The ensuing rule became best known as the “Calvin Johnson Rule.” The initial language surrounding that rule and small tweaks since have created confusion than anything else and left players wondering – what is a catch?

“As long as the ball is in my hands and it never touched the ground and I get up with the ball, that’s a catch,” receiver Tre McBride said in an attempt to explain. “There’s situations where, did he have control when he fell on the ground or whatever, and I don’t know how the refs do that, I don’t know anything about that.

“All I know is if I catch the ball and I’m down on the ground and the ball doesn’t hit the ground, never leaves my body regardless of if it’s in my hand, and the plays’ over and I got the ball in my hand, that’s a catch as far as I’m concerned.”

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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