GLENDALE, Ariz. – If Mike McCarthy had flashbacks to last season’s NFC divisional playoff game when he saw Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald lose control of a catch late in the third quarter Saturday night, there was good reason.
Fitzgerald’s 22-yard catch looked a lot like Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant’s non-catch during the Packers’ divisional-round win last January at Lambeau Field. The Cardinals receiver took four steps while turning around, but he never regained his balance. When he fell to the field, the football was jarred loose on the sideline.
It looked like Fitzgerald’s momentum might have taken him to the ground, which would have dictated an incomplete pass because the football was dislodged when he hit the ground. McCarthy challenged the play, but officials ruled Fiztgerald’s catch stood. They did not confirm the ruling on the field, meaning there was inconclusive evidence to determine Fitzgerald established himself as a runner.
After the game, McCarthy vocalized how a lot of fans feel about one of football’s most basic elements.
“I don’t know what the hell a catch is anymore,” McCarthy said. “It’s ridiculous. I didn’t like the explanation, but that’s football.”
Fitzgerald’s catch was harmless in the confines of the Cardinals’ late-third-quarter drive. It came on the first play of a possession that ended with Packers rookie cornerback Damarious Randall’s interception in the end zone.
Still, the replay review left a potentially profound impact on the game’s ending.
The challenge cost the Packers a timeout, leaving them with just one. If they had two timeouts plus the two-minute warning – allowing them to stop the clock three times – perhaps McCarthy would have been persuaded to punt the football with 2:42 left in regulation instead of trying to convert fourth-and-5 from their 25-yard line.
The Packers failed to convert the fourth-and-5. Their defense held the Cardinals to a three-and-out, but Arizona’s field position set them up for an easy field goal that provided a seven-point lead. Without the field goal, Rodgers’ last-ditch Hail Mary to Jeff Janis would have won the game in regulation instead of merely sending it to overtime.
Of course, there are too many elements to determine the unsuccessful challenge cost the Packers a win. There was another quarter to play, and it led to no points on the scoreboard. The Packers also had no problem with the rule one year ago when it benefited them against the Cowboys.
Still, despite the NFL’s attempt to clarify the catch rule, it’s clear one of football’s most basic elements remains a mystery.
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