First-and-10: Time for NFL to simplify the catch/no-catch rule

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Bears tight end Zach Miller (86) hauls in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Mitch Trubisky against the Saints on Sunday. Miller dislocated his left knee on the play — and the touchdown was overturned upon video review. (Butch Dill/AP)

Even after having surgery to save his left leg, Bears tight end Zach Miller wanted his touchdown back.

‘‘He was arguing about the catch/no-catch,’’ coach John Fox said, relating a phone conversation he had Monday with Miller.

The NFL’s ‘‘catch/no-catch’’ rule always seems to be a hot topic because the league just can’t seem to get it right. No matter how clearly the NFL tries to define it, it still gets it wrong. In the context of a football game, Miller absolutely made the reception from quarterback Mitch Trubisky for a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Bears’ 20-12 loss Sunday to the Saints.

League officials in New York ruled Miller didn’t complete the process of the catch because the ball touched the ground at some point. Replays shown at the Superdome didn’t indicate that. And, if they did, there certainly wasn’t irrefutable evidence to overturn the touchdown call.


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Is there a better way? The NFL can save itself a lot of trouble — and not infringe on the spirit of the game — by simplifying the rule instead of complicating it. If you can score a touchdown without stepping foot in the end zone — by merely touching the pylon or breaking the plane of the goal line — it seems as though there’s room to simplify the catch rule. If a player has possession of the ball with two feet down, that’s a catch. If the ground can’t cause a fumble, it shouldn’t be able to turn a completed pass into an incompletion.

That doesn’t cheapen a completed pass. It still requires the receiver to have possession of the ball with two feet on the ground. All that would do is give the game more scoring and less aggravation.

2. Concern for Miller’s traumatic injury and the frightening aftermath of it — he faced the possibility of amputation without emergency vascular surgery — dominated the day at Halas Hall. That’s a devastating injury for any player on any team, but Miller is beloved by teammates, coaches, fans, team personnel and reporters. There’s not a more universally admired person at Halas Hall. He won the Brian Piccolo Award in 2015 and is an annual finalist for the media ‘‘good guy’’ award.

‘‘He’s a great dude, man, a great all-around guy,’’ tight end Dion Sims said. ‘‘He motivates guys. He’s there. He knows his stuff. He’s a true vet. He really carried us in that [tight ends] room and carried us on the field, as well.’’

3. Next man up? Tight end Daniel Brown played on offense for the first time this season after Miller’s injury and had one reception for nine yards in 16 offensive snaps. Brown started three games for the Bears last season and had 16 receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown.

4. With all due respect to Brown, the attention with Miller out will turn to rookie Adam Shaheen, the 6-6, 270-pound rookie from Division II Ashland, who was drafted 45th overall to develop into a big-play offensive weapon but has only one catch — a two-yard touchdown in the Bears’ 23-17 overtime victory against the Steelers.

Shaheen has played 104 of the Bears’ 510 offensive snaps (20.4 percent) this season, but he has played 57 of 185 (30.8 percent) in the last three games. Trubisky looked for him on a downfield route on the first offensive play against the Saints, but Shaheen couldn’t separate from cornerback Marshon Lattimore, and Trubisky kept the ball for a four-yard gain.

‘‘Time will tell,’’ Fox said when he was asked if Miller’s absence will give Shaheen a chance to blossom. ‘‘He’s definitely got the ability and the football intelligence to do it. Whether [the recent increase in playing time] relates to the production, I can’t speak to [that] off the top of my head. But the game’s slowing down for him.’’

5. The Bears still seem to be figuring out just how to use their new toy. After throwing seven passes last week against the Panthers, Trubisky threw 32 against the Saints — an acceptable number because the Bears trailed most of the way.

But one sequence was baffling: On third-and-one from their 30 with two minutes left, the Bears — trailing 17-12 at the time — had Trubisky in the shotgun on back-to-back plays. He threw two incompletions, ending the drive.

One factor to consider: The distance for a first down was closer to two yards than to one, and the Bears were 4-for-4 converting third-and-two on pass plays entering the game.

The bottom line: Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is learning on the fly, too. He has a lot to prove in the second half, as well.

6. The Bears are 3-5 at the break, but the arrow definitely is pointing up. They’ve played only one poor game, a 29-7 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 2. In fact, the Buccaneers (2-5) are the only team the Bears have played that has a losing record. The Bears’ eight opponents are a combined 36-24 (.600).

7. The Bears had nine more running plays for no gain or negative yards against the Saints and have an NFL-high 55 for the season. Tarik Cohen had four carries for two yards — minus-1, five, minus-3 and a one-yard touchdown. Of Cohen’s 54 carries this season, 17 have been for no gain or negative yards (31.5 percent).

8. Tyre Brady Watch: The 6-3, 208-pound Marshall junior had nine receptions for 101 yards and an eight-yard touchdown in the Thundering Herd’s 41-30 loss to Florida International. Brady has 47 receptions for 694 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Josh McCown is getting better with age. The 38-year-old veteran completed 26 of 33 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 119.3 rating in a 25-20 loss to the defending NFC champion Falcons.

10. Bear-ometer: 7-9 — vs. Packers (W); vs. Lions (W); at Eagles (L); vs. 49ers (W); at Bengals (L); at Lions (L); vs. Browns (W); at Vikings (L).

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.


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