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NFL Clarifies, But Will Not Change Catch Rule After Dez Bryant Controversy

PHOENIX -- The NFL has sought to clarify it, but the rule that denied Dez Bryant a game-changing catch in Green Bay this past January will remain unchanged for 2015.

NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, along with several other members of the NFL Competition Committee, spoke at length to reporters Monday at the NFL Annual Meetings. Blandino spent roughly 10 minutes combing over the now-infamous Bryant play, which saw the receiver go to ground while reaching for the end zone in the divisional round playoff game against Green Bay.

"The committee doesn't recommend a change to the rule, but looked at the language and tweaked the language in an attempt to make it clearer and easier to understand," Blandino said.

A lot of the confusion from that afternoon came from referee Gene Steratore's decision to overrule the catch, citing that Bryant had neither made "an act common to the game" while possessing the ball, nor had he maintained possession all the way through the process of the catch.

The committee's tweaking of the language has done away with the confusing phrase about "an act common to the game."

"In order to complete a catch, the receiver has to have control, both feet on the ground and he has to have it after that long enough to clearly establish himself as a runner," Blandino said.

Establishing oneself as a runner now becomes the crucial element of maintaining possession. Blandino said in order for a receiver to establish himself as a runner – basically, "that means he has the ability to ward off, avoid, protect himself from the impending contact."

That doesn't do a lot to clarify the play involving Bryant, which saw him take several steps before reaching toward the goal line, all while falling down in the process. Blandino said in the instance of a receiver going to the ground, maintaining possession of the ball is critical.

From the press conference: "If he hasn't clearly established himself as a runner prior to going to the ground, then he has to hold on to the ball until after his initial contact with the ground. And that's the rule that applied here.  When you watch the play, Bryant is going to the ground. He is falling to the ground to make the catch, he has not clearly established himself as a runner prior to going to the ground, so he has to hold on to the ball until after that initial contact with the ground. He's basically got to hold on to it throughout this action. If the ball touches the ground and comes loose, it's an incomplete pass. And you'll see the ball hit the ground and then it pops loose."

To put it bluntly, the rule itself has not changed. Blandino said that he hopes the clarification in the language will make the rule easier to interpret, however.

"What we're saying is to having it long enough to clearly become a runner, to clearly be able to do something other than just attempting to secure possession of the football," he said. "So I don't think the standard changes, but the way we're communicating the standard has changed."

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