Dez Bryant is too good of an athlete for the NFL’s rules.
That’s the logical conclusion drawn from a controversial reversal of an apparent catch by Bryant in Sunday’s playoff game. Had it stayed a catch, it could have turned the Cowboys’ loss into a win over the Packers.
But Dez is just too good for the NFL’s rules and the officials who apply them.
The crux of the matter is this: Upon a challenge by Green Bay, the "Calvin Johnson Rule" was applied to a spectacular catch by Bryant with less than five minutes to go. The application overturned the fourth down call and the Packers ran out the clock for a 26-21 win.
However, the Calvin Johnson Rule – so named because of a controversial non-catch by the Lions’ playmaker in 2010 – applies to receivers going to the ground in the process of making a catch.
The thing is, Bryant is such a superior athlete that he had already made the catch and transitioned to being a rusher.
What Bryant was doing was different from Johnson, who was falling backwards in the end zone. Bryant was in stride when he leaped to catch the ball, not falling backwards.
Bryant took two strides with the ball between his hands, then reached the ball out and lunged for the pylon. When he did so, the ball bobbled as he struck the ground.
It’s not a move you or I, or even Tyler Clutts, can make (all due respect to the Cowboys’ fullback). But it’s a move that Bryant can make, no problem.
That’s because Bryant is gifted with a ridiculous amount of athleticism. He does things in games that boggle the mind. The real show is at practices, when he regularly leaves bystanders gaping and teammates shaking their heads.
There’s no question Bryant is capable of snatching a ball out of the air, taking a couple of quick steps and stretching out for the goal line. A normal receiver would have fallen down. Dez isn’t a normal receiver, and he wasn’t falling down.
"It looked to me like Dez had two feet down," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "He made a move common to the game, which is this thing they talk about a lot. We’ve seen him a number of times this year reach out and score touchdowns, making that same thing. It seemed like he had the ball at the end of the play as well. So all of those things factor into it."
Garrett’s view is certainly biased, but it’s also an informed one. He knows what Bryant is capable of doing and would recognize what his receiver was trying to do on the play.
The opposing view was espoused by FOX NFL rules analyst Mike Pereira, who said the Calvin Johnson Rule was applied correctly.
The key to Pereira’s analysis is that you have to ignore the steps made by Bryant. Those occurred in the process of making the catch as he was going to the ground, according to Pereira.
The steps don’t matter, and neither does Bryant’s elbow touching the ground before the bobble. All because, according to the Calvin Johnson Rule, it wasn’t a completed catch yet.
Pereira said that’s the way the rule has been applied all season. The replay official, rather than attempting to determine the point when Bryant transitioned from receiver to runner, simply fell back on policy.
Had the replay official been given the leeway to determine that Bryant had made the catch before the bobble, then the old "ground can’t cause a fumble" rule would have applied. Bryant’s elbow touching would have ruled him down at the half-yard line.
But the Calvin Johnson Rule, despite its namesake, was designed for mere mortals. It doesn’t take into account elite athletes who can secure a catch and dive for the pylon in the blink of an eye. In this application, there’s no difference between falling and lunging.
Maybe one day it will, and we will have a "Dez Bryant Rule." Given owner Jerry Jones’ influence, we shouldn’t be surprised if the Calvin Johnson Rule is revised in the off-season.
And anyone who has spent any time watching Bryant shouldn’t be surprised he was capable of pulling off a move too good for the rules.