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How was the Julio Jones touchdown not a touchdown?

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On the NFL’s ongoing obsession with dumb rules

Atlanta Falcons vs New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

At the end of the day, I can forgive Pete Morelli’s crew for thinking they saw Devonta Freeman committing an unnecessary roughness penalty he didn’t deserve. I can forgive them for nailing the Falcons with deserved penalties all game long because hey, Atlanta earned them. I can forgive them because to referee is to err, and because making those split second calls is tough. It’s a rough gig, I understand that, and I can be frustrated with the officiating without thinking it was the reason a lethargic Falcons team lost this game. They got beaten, we move on, end of story.

However, there is one unforgivable offense Morelli’s crew committed in this game, and it is the reason the Falcons did not lose this game by three points instead of ten. That’s only a minor difference if you focus on the score and not the call itself. The call, which was reviewed and upheld, was a perfect illustration of why the NFL rulebook and the officiating of the rules contained within are so fundamentally broken.

I am referring, of course, to this.

The first thing you’ll notice is how much contact there is between Julio Jones and Marshon Lattimore. They both were aggressive and physical with one another all game long, with the refs missing one clear pass interference call on Lattimore and potentially another, and Julio arguably getting away with some contact himself. Set that aside for a moment, because none of that was getting called here, and focus on the catch Julio ultimately makes.

What’s obvious in slow motion is that Julio caught the ball on the plane, got both feet down in the end zone, and didn’t bobble the ball or fall out of the end zone immediately or anything else that you would expect to cause the ball to be ruled anything but a touchdown. I’ve checked the NFL rulebook as closely as I can for something that could have caused the referees to disqualify it, and I can’t find it.

To make matters worse, the referees reviewed the play and still upheld the call that it was short of the end zone, despite it very obviously not being short of the end zone. The Falcons then took over and Falconed it, failing to score a touchdown and ensuring an ugly loss would be even uglier.

But the call was so egregiously bad as to beggar belief, in my opinion. The NFL seems to consistently have trouble telling us what exactly a catch is, and why a ball caught inside the end zone would not qualify as a touchdown. The league has felt no need to issue a statement about it because the outrage has been (somewhat predictably) just from Falcons fans and fantasy players, and even quality analysts like Brian Baldinger are inclined to see what the NFL has already seen.

Until the NFL simplifies things—which could happen this offseason, given the hue and cry from everyone who loves football—referees will struggle to make the right call with catches. That may or may not impact the outcome of games, but it will deprive great receivers like Julio Jones of great touchdown grabs, and that’s a crime in and of itself.