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Was Jeremy Maclin's catch a catch: When is a catch not a catch?

The Bengals have had two questionable plays hit them in successive weeks, promoting the call... what is really a catch in the NFL?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

What the hell?

Generically speaking, that is the customary reaction for questionable calls; whether it's something to do with the officials, coaches or a player. In younger households without children or in establishments that serve adult beverages, and depending on the severity of the complaint, you allow "what the fuck" to slip.

These words slipped when Tyler Eifert's touchdown reception against the Baltimore Ravens was reversed. With two minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Bengals, already leading 14-0, had fourth and one from the Ravens' two-yard line. Eifert caught the football and landed on his right foot. Before his left took touched the ground, defensive back Brynden Trawick collided with Eifert's left hip, preventing the tight end from landing his left foot; he was in the process of completing the catch. With both arms extended over the goalline, it was called a touchdown and the Bengals (and the rest of us) rejoiced.

Maclin Eifert catch

Walt Anderson, who spent several minutes consulting with the New York NFL office, clicked on his microphone and reversed the call.

"After reviewing the play, the receiver is going toward the ground and is still in the process of completing the catch. Even though the ball was extended beyond the goalline, it is knocked loose prior to him hitting the ground. It's incomplete."

The vice president of officiating Dean Blandino did a poor job of explaining the rule saying that Eifert has "to maintain control all the way to the ground. When you're going to the ground, you have to hold on to it regardless of any reach."

What's the act of "going to the ground" when it already appeared that Eifert completed the act of catching the football? That wasn't explained -- granted, a fan generally wears a pair of glasses that can slightly blind alternatives when we're expecting a certain result.

"Let me take you through the steps," former head official and now Fox analyst Mike Pereira said. "Eifert got control of the ball, was coming down to the ground with one foot and before his second foot hit the ground, he was hit by the defender low, which means then he's automatically considered ‘going to the ground'. On your way to the ground and when you hit the ground, you have to maintain control of the ball. People say, ‘but if it was a runner and he broke the plane, it would be a touchdown'. But he's not a runner. He's trying to complete the catch. You don't become a runner, until you complete the process of the catch, which Tyler EIfert had not."

It's not the ruling that was an issue here -- it's another example on how convoluted and murky an NFL rule has become, despite efforts to generate clarity on what constitutes a catch.

With 8:55 remaining in the second quarter, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith faked the handoff and launched a 20-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin near the left sidelines, reaching the Bengals' 46-yard line. As Maclin hauled in the football, Reggie Nelson lowered his right shoulder and exploded through the receiver. As Maclin fell, he lost the football.

Maclin Eifert catch

It was called a catch. Same situation, right?

Head coach Marvin Lewis tossed the red flag. Clearly, the Eifert catch was fresh on his mind.

"The ruling on the field is confirmed," the official Ron Torbert announced to the synchronized groan at Paul Brown Stadium. "The runner completed the process of the catch, before he was knocked back and out of bounds and lost the ball. It is a completed catch."

Pereira agreed with the call:

Based on Pereira's walkthrough listed above -- apply the "act of completing the catch" -- Maclin had established two steps and was in the process of landing his third when Nelson hit Maclin around his right shoulder.

Rule 8, Article 3b states that the player must secure two feet inbounds -- which it appears Eifert didn't and Maclin did. In Rule 8, Article 3, Item 1 states:

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 until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.

The second foot clearly differentiates both situations.

This being said, we're not inclined to blame Walt Anderson's crew or even Ron Torbert's guys -- it appears they interpreted the rule as it was written. What we are doing is blaming the league for how it continues to complicate such a common football move and requires making five-minute calls to New York's NFL office. It can cause a game's momentum to be dragged to an absolute halt. Yes, I'm a proponent that everything should be reviewed and replayed -- too much is invested into this sport to disregard meaningless calls with shoulder shrug, such as horrible ball placement from an official 25 yards away from a tackle with a disadvantageous angle (how is GPS not applied here?). On the other hand, too many rules are creating confusion on simple acts in the NFL, such as completing a catch.

Should Eifert's completion have been ruled a touchdown? The rules say no. Common sense says yes. Despite contact being made while he was landing his second foot, Eifert had firm control of the football as he extended over the goaline. It wasn't until he landed that he lost the football. In respect to this specific scenario, this was called correctly but the rule dictating this is ridiculous.