NFL Adopts New, Simplified Catch Rule At League Meeting

Three years later, Dez Bryant has been vindicated.

On a frigid January 2015 day at Lambeau Field, the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver made a big catch that could have beaten the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. However, the NFL’s confusing and arcane rule regarding what is and is not a catch denied Bryant a key reception. Dallas ended up losing a close game.

Moving forward, NFL officials will operate using simplified criteria for catches, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported. The rule change was passed unanimously, 32-0, at the league’s annual meeting of all 32 team owners Tuesday.

Now, receivers simply need to control the ball, have two feet (or another body part) down in the field of play and have the ability to make a “football move.” Those include taking a third step and reaching for a first-down marker or goal line. Previously, receivers needed to control the ball all the way to the ground, which was the rule that took Bryant’s catch away from him.

The same rule overturned a touchdown catch by Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James that likely would have won a game against New England last season.

It was first reported that the NFL would try to fix the catch rule in the weeks after the Super Bowl. Frustration by fans, players and coaches had been bubbling up for years over the overly complicated catch rule that no two officials seemed to agree on. The fact that it kept coming up late in close, high-stakes games, like the two aforementioned matchups, was creating yet another image problem for the league.

As the report pointed out, the new rule might result in a higher number of fumbles by receivers, since losing the ball on the way to the ground is no longer an automatic incompletion. Still, the league hopes there will be fewer lengthy replay reviews to determine just how much a ball moved in a receiver’s hands while he falls to the turf.

GettyImages-461346220 The NFL unanimously adopted a simpler catch rule at its annual league meeting. Pictured above is Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant making a catch that was controversially ruled incomplete in the 2015 playoffs. Photo: Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

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