Part 1: did Lee Evans make the catch?

“Upon further review,” Lee Evans catch/non-catch at the end of the Ravens – Patriots game has become a hot topic today. No one thought it was a catch yesterday, but the discussion is heating up. Should the Ravens be in the Super Bowl? It comes down to Evans’s second foot. Or, should I say, it’s all about whether Evans’s second foot came down. Here’s my take on Sunday’s games, but I rely on the lawyerly Adrian the Canadian to sort this call out. Here’s his quick take (check out his second post for even more gory details):


One of the many hot topics in the wake of yesterday’s conference championship games is Lee Evans non-catch at the end of regulation in the Pats-Ravens game. Over on Slate, Josh Levin has a good analysis of the catch. Levin seems to think that a strict application of the NFL rule on touchdown catches suggests that Evans did make the catch. Here’s the language he looks at:

Item 3: End Zone Catches. If a player controls the ball while in the end zone, both feet, or any part of his body other than his hands, must be completely on the ground before losing control, or the pass is incomplete.

Levin is wrong due to the bolded text. Slow down the video yourself – Evans plainly does not have his second food completely on the ground before Moore breaks up the pass. Which is kind of unfortunate – before I gave the video a close look I was ready to argue that the pass was still incomplete even if Evans had gotten the second foot down. Is there any argument for Evans? Can Baltimore fans take some solace in the note below Item 3? Let’s see:

Note: In the field of play, if a catch of a forward pass has been completed, after which contact by a defender causes the ball to become loose before the runner is down by contact, it is a fumble, and the ball remains alive. In the end zone, the same action is a touchdown, since the receiver completed the catch beyond the goal line prior to the loss of possession, and the ball is dead when the catch is completed.

This looks kinds, sorta good for Evans except, as we saw, he never completed the catch. This note is designed to cover the situation where the player catches the ball and establishes himself as in control of the ball with both fee completely on the ground and then has the ball knocked out. Tough luck, I know. The last thing I wanted to see was another New England – New York Super Bowl.

Levin’s article does get at another interesting issue; the limitations of instant replay and the metaphysics of football. Defining a catch is hard stuff: when slowed down, some valid catches look questionable and some questionable catches look valid. This is true of a lot of plays. On close examination, what was once clear looks murky; this is a problem for the NFL and one that’s exacerbated by replay. I’ll come back to this problem in a subsequent post.

(Click here for part two from Adrian the Canadian if you still haven’t had enough rules for one day.)


8 responses to “Part 1: did Lee Evans make the catch?

  1. My initial reaction was that he got both feet down but did not hold onto the ball through the catch. Even if Lee Evans gets both feet down (completely or not completely), is the “Calvin Johnson Rule” the next hurdle. While I don’t know and am too lazy to look up exact wording, my understanding is that the player needs to control the ball through the catch, which Evans clearly fails to do.

    I don’t like to see games end on freak plays like Cundiff’s miss. I think the Patriots are in rough shape heading into this next game.

    • Looks like going to ground, as Johnson did, leads to a different set of rules. I had Adrian do a second take on this ( – I think neither is a catch by rule, though for different reasons.

      • The going to the ground rule only affects if the ball touches the ground (i.e. trapping the ball or the if the ground adjusts the ball in the receiver’s arms)– what matters is if the receiver has established possession before the ball touches the ground…

        Calvin Johnson was able to control and secure the ball and transfer it to 1 hand (which I feel is shows that he had control and he performed an “act common to the game”) before the ball touched the ground.
        Evans was still trying to hold onto the ball and definitely did not show that he had control of it (nor had he gotten 2 feet on the ground yet).

        The rule says “throughout the process of contacting the ground” — which means he has to finish getting on the ground. It looks like his toe had touched the grass before it got knocked out, but the ball was coming loose before he finished putting his 2nd foot down.

        Also, I think the most telling point is that Evans complains for a flag right after the catch– if he had established possession, he would’ve been fighting for a TD or replay.

      • Regarding the going to ground issue, here’s the rule (from Adrian’s second post):

        “Player Going to the Ground. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone.”

        It doesn’t seem to matter if the ball hits the ground – this line in the rule book allows for a different interpretation simply when the player goes to ground (where the interpretation can differ because the “act of catching a pass” is somewhat vague in it’s endpoint). I agree with you that Johnson completed the catch by making a move common to the game by transferring the ball, but once he goes to ground, additional requirements can come into play depending how you read this rule.

        Regarding the two feet on the ground issue for Evans, a player (who doesn’t go to ground) has made the catch if he:

        “(b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and

        (c) maintains control of the ball long enough, after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, to enable him to perform any act common to the game (i.e., maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.).”

        I don’t think Evans satisfied the “long enough” part of (c), but (c) also states pretty plainly that all the feet have to do is touch the ground (this keeps the rule consistent with plays where the receiver taps his toes to stay in bounds and allows for the receiver to stay on his toes if he wants; even though this same requirement is stated as “completely on the ground” above, “completely” is vague in its implication).

        Anyway, we then get to the impossibility of reviewing the Evans catch (many people have been hollering that there should have been a review). The issue is, as described by Levin at Slate, that it’s misleading to use slow motion replay to determine whether Evans had time to make that darn football move.

    • Also, why are you so pessimistic? You must be trying to reverse jinx the Pats . . . I think they are going to handle the Giants. The Ravens were actually a pretty good team in my opinion, and Brady probably won’t throw two interceptions to the Giants.

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