While the majority of the attention has been on Atlanta’s surprising 2-0 start, the finish of Sunday’s game went down to the wire. That was thanks, in large part, to a surprising reversal of a Mack Hollins touchdown. Every year the NFL refs come up with another confusing standard for what is a catch. It is a long established process of gaslighting fans until we don’t know which way is up anymore.
Here’s what happened on Sunday: Mack Hollins pulls in a fantastic Desmond Ridder pass and taps both toes in the end zone. Two toes in the end zone, Hollins falls backwards out of bounce. It is ruled a touchdown. Then on review, the refs overruled the on-field decision, finding enough evidence to rule Hollins was out of bounce due to part of his left heel rolling into the white.
Is two toes no longer enough? Was it ever enough? Is a catch simply at the discretion of the presiding refs? Are we all just energy, man?
Since the Calvin Johnson rule, the smart commenters will say something may look like a catch, but let’s check what the refs have to say. That’s still the smart play today.
So what gives with the reversal of Hollins’ touchdown? Luckily D. Orlando Ledbetter, the long-time Falcons beat writer for the AJC, asked NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Walt Anderson, per the pool report. Anderson’s official explanation is not for those with high blood pressure or heart issues.
Ledbetter: We wanted to get a ruling on what you saw on the play in the end zone to wide receiver Mack Hollins, originally ruled a touchdown on the field and then overturned to an incomplete pass.
Anderson: “When he comes down, he comes down with his toes in bounds. But in one continuous motion both feet go to the ground. The left heel came down out of bounds. When it’s one motion and the heel comes down like that out of bounds, then the foot is out of bounds.”
So, for those following at home: Hollins had two toes down in bounds. However, following both toes down in bounds, with control of the football, there was a “continuous motion” where Hollins’ left heel comes down out of bounds.
I’ve watched football for 30 years and never heard of this explanation before. Luckily, there’s more.
Ledbetter: Okay and so, it appears that if the feet are down the heel is out of bounds.
Anderson: “The toes are down but he is making a continuous step. It doesn’t matter if its heel-toe or toe-heel, if it’s all in one step and any part of the foot lands out of bounds it’s out of bounds. Had he been able to drag his toe some distance and then you end up stepping then you get the benefit of the drag, but when it’s all in one step, one motion, then it’s part of the foot. Any part of the foot comes down out of bounds, then it’s out of bounds.”
Based on some Google investigation, the two words “continuous” and “step” have rarely been put together, though toe drag has been. Only once in the NFL space, by refs, used to explain three rulings on a single Devonta Smith catch in an absolutely bizarre interview. First, the refs ruled Smith caught a ball. Then ruled it incomplete because, in a “continuous step” his heel hit out of bounds. Then ruled it complete, because Smith’s toe dragged before the continuous step.
The above explanation was also provided by Walt Anderson.
Bad: A “continuous step,” a term I’ve never personally heard before in 30 years of watching football.
Good: Toe drag.
Ledbetter: So, would an alternative have been if he’s up on his feet and he falls forward then it’s dead if the heel never touches the ground?
Anderson: “Yes, if the heel had never touched out of bounds and then he takes another step and lands with either foot out of bounds, then you count the two toes that were in bounds as the two feet and then it would have been a catch.”
Per Anderson, the heel of the foot is the important part unless the toes drag. Refs will apparently look at if the player is completing a “continuous step,” which is some nonsense jargon made up solely for the purpose of defending bad calls. That “continuous step,” which again, is a made up concoction of words, doesn’t apply if toes drag. Roll the foot and part of the foot lands out of bounds — the player is out of bounds. You need two toes, plus an action that isn’t a continuous step.
Perhaps the best move is dragging two heels? Perhaps work the edges of the feet in bounds. Even avoid continuous steps entirely. Go from toes to elbows as part of a football move. Partial, non-continuous steps only when near the edges of the field. There is much to consider here.
What did we learn? We learned the NFL refs will stretch rules, and even create new word combinations, to avoid admitting they don’t know what a catch is, either. Luckily, the Falcons beat both the Green Bay Packers and the referees to move to 2-0.