Spotlight shines on scoring plays

BY foxsports • December 16, 2012

So much for Showdown Sunday…

Week 15 was supposed to feature several blow-up matchups, but instead, we got blow outs. In only two of the 13 day games was the margin of victory below 10 points.

With playoff spots on the line, the spotlight to get every call correct, especially on scoring plays, is magnified.

In 2011, the NFL competition committee started an effort to take coaches off the hook in regards to the biggest plays in the game, scoring plays. They told the coaches that they would save them from having to challenge any play that was ruled a score. That way, they wouldn't risk the loss of a timeout, nor would they likely run out of challenges.

Some wondered, including myself, whether this rule change would lead to more stoppages and, therefore, result in longer games. Interestingly, it did lead to more stoppages, but not longer games. The rules-makers were happy with this change, so they decided in 2012 to include turnovers, the second most critical part of the game.

So let's take a look at three different scoring plays and subsequent reviews, all involving receptions.

Play 1 happened in the Minnesota-St. Louis game.

THE SITUATION: St. Louis had the ball, first down and goal at the Minnesota 4-yard line with 12:46 left in the second quarter. Minnesota led 7-0.

THE PLAY: St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford completed a 4-yard pass to Brian Quick for a touchdown. There was a question whether Quick caught the ball in bounds, but after a review, the call was confirmed.

MY TAKE: I remember former coach and announcer John Madden coming up with the line that said one knee equals two feet. That's a true statement, but really it was too broad. This play was an example where one elbow equals two feet. Quick caught the ball, and on his way to the ground, one foot hit in bounds and then the elbow hit, which made it a catch. The rule is specific: in order to complete a catch in bounds, a receiver has to get both feet down or any other body part other than his hands. Therefore, one elbow equals a catch, one knee equals a catch, etc.

Play 2 happened in the Green Bay-Chicago game.

THE SITUATION: Green Bay had the ball, third-and-4 at the Chicago 29-yard line with 4:27 left in the second quarter. Chicago led 7-0.

THE PLAY: Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed a 29-yard pass to James Jones for a touchdown. As Jones hit the ground the ball came loose, but after a review, the touchdown was confirmed.

MY TAKE: People often ask why the ball is dead when it breaks the plane on some occasions and not others. The "Calvin Johnson play" in 2009 is always referred to when this question is asked. Here's the difference between the two types of plays. Jones completed the catch in the field of play and then became a runner as he advanced the ball toward the end zone. Since he had completed the catch and became a runner, the ball is dead in the end zone the second it breaks the plane. If you are in the end zone as Calvin Johnson was in the opening game of the 2009 season against the Packers, and attempting to complete the process of the catch, you are not deemed to be a runner. Therefore, the ball is not dead until the process is completed.

Play 3 transpired in the Denver-Baltimore game.

THE SITUATION: Denver had the ball, second-and-8 at the Baltimore 15-yard line with 12:15 left in the second quarter. Denver led 3-0.

THE PLAY: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning completed a 15-yard pass to Eric Decker. Decker reached out for the end zone and the ball hit the pylon while he was going out of bounds, and the play was signaled as a touchdown on the field. After a review, the call was reversed as the officials ruled that Decker's foot was out of bounds before the ball hit the pylon and the ball was placed at the 1-yard line.

MY TAKE: This play might be the most interesting of the three. Decker eventually lost the ball, but he had completed the process of the catch first. The question is, when was the process completed? It's a bit of a new wrinkle to the rule. Decker caught the ball, turned up field and extended the ball out toward the pylon. By definition, that becomes a catch because he performed an act common to the game of football as demonstrated by performing a second act of extending the ball forward in an attempt to score a touchdown. Although it has nothing to do with the ruling of a catch, I did not think that the ruling of a touchdown should have been reversed. Yes, Decker's right foot was down out of bounds before the ball touched the pylon, but to me, it was not totally clear that the ball had not broken the plane at that point.