By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — NFL rules can confuse people. The people who make NFL rules can also confuse people.
With that being established, it sure seemed as though NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said Thursday morning that Corey Clement’s touchdown for the Eagles in Super Bowl LII against the Patriots should have been ruled as an incompletion on replay review.
Vincent was a guest on The Dan Patrick Show, with the goal of trying to explain the new rule proposals from the competition committee which will go before owners next week. Specifically, the competition committee set out to clear up any and all confusion about what is and what is not a catch in the NFL, an issue that’s proven particularly troublesome in recent years.
One of the changes to the rules involves the movement of a football during the process of a catch. Under the old rules, if the ball moved while a player was making a catch, then it should have been ruled an incompletion. Under the new proposals, the NFL will allow for some slight movement of the football.
Interestingly, Vincent used Clement’s touchdown catch as a perfect illustration of how the new rule can be enforced.
“That slight movement of the ball. The old language read [if there’s] slight movement, then that means you’ve got to overturn it. … [Now] you can have movement but you can still maintain control. We removed and got out of the business of slight movement. Because you can have movement but still be in control,” Vincent said. “The Clement play in the Super Bowl was the best example. The ball moved but he had complete control over the ball through the process of the catch.”
So, under the new rule proposal, Clement would not be penalized for his slight bobbling of the football during his touchdown catch. He would be rewarded a catch and a touchdown.
That’s all well and good … but wouldn’t that, by necessity, mean that under the old rule, the ruling should have been an incompletion? Isn’t Troy saying that under the old rules, a slight bobble meant that a catch had to be overturned on replay? Typically, that is the meaning of a sentence when a sentence reads like this: “The old language read [if there’s] slight movement, then that means you’ve got to overturn it.”
On the Sound FX program on Super Bowl LII, referee Gene Steratore was shown explaining the replay ruling, “It sticks here and then it goes there, but he never loses control. Is there a little ball movement? Yes. But that does not deem loss of control. You know? It goes from here, sticks on the forearm, right back to the hand, touchdown.”
So you have Vincent saying the old language clearly dictated that “slight movement” must result in an incompletion. And you have the referee (who had been communicating with head of officiating Al Riveron) saying that there was slight movement but never a loss of control. It seems as though even the people who create and enforce the rules have a hard time fully understanding and implementing the rules. Will it all be cleared up going forward? Probably not.
If you want to play out an imaginary scenario where Clement’s touchdown was ruled incomplete after video review, then the Eagles would have faced a fourth-and-6 from the New England 22-yard line midway through the third quarter. Presumably they would have kicked a field goal to go up 25-19 instead of 29-19, costing them four points. How the game would have played out after that is an infinite labyrinth of options, but the Eagles ended up winning the game by eight points, so perhaps the world can avoid a full-blown scandal resulting from Vincent’s comments.
But, well, speaking of full-blown scandals, Vincent was also asked by Patrick if the NFL would consider taking away all rules on football preparation. Patrick argued that quarterbacks should be able to prepare the footballs however they want, and that nobody in the world cares about inflation levels or PSI numbers or anything like that.
Vincent, who played a central role in letting the “DeflateGate” story grow completely out of hand in January 2015, agreed wholeheartedly.
“That is something that has been discussed and I think the fans, I think that’s what the fans want,” Vincent said of Patrick’s suggestion. “They want to see their quarterback with the ball in his hand, with an opportunity to score again. Under his terms. Under his likings.”
Vincent continued: “This is what the fans want. They want points and they want to see their star with an opportunity to win the game or to score more points.”
That right there is classic NFL shenanigans. In one moment, when it’s convenient for the league, a certain “offense” can be painted as a felony, even though there are no rules on the books for such “offenses.” A moment later, it doesn’t matter at all. Who cares, really? Fans want points. That whole two-year-long, multi-million-dollar quest to try to paint the greatest quarterback of all time as a cheater? It’s in the past. The future? People want points.
The fact that nobody from the NFL had any basic knowledge of simple science before launching that dogged pursuit of Tom Brady? Irrelevant.
The fact that the NFL then summarily destroyed all the data it collected the following season — data which showed that yes, science is real? Doesn’t matter. Heck, let’s all pretend “DeflateGate” — a case in which the NFL never had proper evidence but still issued historic and unprecedented discipline — never happened. After all, fans want points, and that’s the only thing that matters.
The people who run the NFL can change the rules all they want. They’ll always just be a massive headache.