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First-and-10: A catch is just a catch — NFL needs to simplify ‘process’ rule

You can score a touchdown in the NFL merely by touching the pylon without ever entering the end zone. Why do you have to jump through hoops to make a spectacular catch?

By almost any common-sense definition —  except in the NFL rule book — Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant made a fabulous 31-yard catch in the fourth quarter against the Packers on Sunday. He leaped to catch the ball, got three feet and his forearm down with the ball inside the 1-yard line.

If that’s not a catch, it needs to be. It’s not that complicated. “Completing the process of the catch” is typical NFL over-thinking. If you have possession of the ball with two feet in bounds, it’s a catch. That makes sense to most people and avoids a lot of needless controversy.

And if the ground can’t cause a fumble, it shouldn’t be able to cause an incompletion either.

But don’t count on it. The “Tuck Rule,” which Tom Brady and the Patriots parlayed to their first Super Bowl in 2001, wasn’t changed until 2013. The Calvin Johnson “incompletion” that looked like a touchdown to most rationale football people, didn’t force the “process of the catch” rule to be simplified either.

The only possible saving grace is that the Cowboys and Jerry Jones were victimized. That usually gets things done in the NFL.

 

2. Bears beat: The hiring of 37-year-old Ryan Pace as general manager isn’t exactly business-as-usual at Halas Hall, but not as big of a departure from McCaskey convention as some Bears fans would have liked to see. The Bears again hired the person they were most comfortable with — which is a scary thought to those who know their Bears history.

Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard indeed wanted to shake things up at Halas Hall. Pace, while clearly a quality GM prospect, was more willing to play ball and conform to current Halas Hall style. That doesn’t mean Pace is doomed to fail. But how ironic it would be if Ballard, the “inside” candidate, turned out to be the best one? It wouldn’t surprise most Bears fans.

3. The knock on Pace that he has little outside scouting experience is a legitimate one. But his response to his lack of experience in college scouting was one of his best at Friday’s press conference.

“Coming in as a pro scout … you understand the dynamics of the building,” Pace said. “You witness the head coach/general manager relationship. You witness decisions happening every day.

“So I value that I came up on the pro side. You know what it takes, in certain positions, to succeed in the league. I’m actually glad I came in on the pro side.”

4. That’s why Pace’s hiring of a head coach could be telltale. There’s a big difference between having a plan and being able to implement it. He knows the dynamic he’s looking for in a coach/GM relationship. He has to hit a home run in his first at-bat — a tricky assignment at any level of competition.

 

5. John Fox, who was fired as Broncos coach by mutual agreement — or something like that — Monday, should warrant serious consideration by the Bears. He’s a veteran coach who commands respect. He went to the Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme as his quarterback at Todd Sauerbrun as his punter. He made the playoffs with Tim Tebow. Seems like he would be a good, safe, solid hire that would allow Pace to get his feet on the ground and grow into the general manager’s job at Halas Hall.

 

6. Not sure what former Jets coach Rex Ryan was thinking when he chose the Bills over the Falcons. History shows that most defensive coaches succeed or fail on the performance of their quarterback — Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith etc. For Ryan to choose the Bills, who have major quarterback issues, over the Falcons, who have Matt Ryan in his prime, is certainly a questionable decision. The Bills defense is a great place to start. But ultimately, a good defense and no quarterback didn’t serve Ryan well with the Jets.

 

7. Meatball Thought of the Day: Bears coaching candidate Teryl Austin, the Lions first-year defensive coordinator, is from Sharon, Pa. — just 50 miles north of Aliquippa, Pa., the home of Mike Ditka, and played at Pitt. Back to reality: Austin has been an NFL coordinator for one year. But that’s just as long as Chuck Pagano with the Ravens and Mike Tomlin with the Vikings prior to being hired as NFL head coaches. That doesn’t mean he’s the next Mike Tomlin or Chuck Pagano. But it doesn’t mean he’s not.

 

8. Though the Dez Bryant incompletion received most of the attention, the most interesting call in the Packers-Cowboys game was the decision to penalize only the instigator — Packers’ guard T.J. Lang — in a fracas after a short pass from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams in the third quarter.

Lang was called for unnecessary roughness for his aggressive blocking after the whistle, which started the whole thing. Though Cowboys players responded, they were not penalized and that ruling in effect forced the Packers to settle for a field goal. Usually, both teams are penalized in that situation — or worse, only the team that responds gets nailed. Good call by the officiating crew.

 

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Julius Peppers, who will turn 35 on Sunday, had a sack, two forced fumbles, a quarterback hurry and tied safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix with a team-high six tackles in the Packers’ victory over the Cowboys.

The second forced fumble turned out to be a key play with the Cowboys leading 14-10 early in the third quarter after forcing a Packers punt. On a first-and-five carry from his 41-yard-line, DeMarco Murray was looking at a first down run if not more when when Peppers fought off a block by rookie tackle Zack Martin and stripped Murray. Teammate Datone Jones recovered at the Cowboys 44.

“It was a great play by Peppers,” Murray said. “He was washed out but he came back and reached around. I thought I was through the whole and he made a hell of a play. I felt the play was about to break wide open.”

 

10. Kudos to a couple of players with Chicago ties whose perseverance has paid off with trips to the conference championship games: Former Bear starting guard Lance Louis, whose career appeared over after he suffered a knee injury when he was blindsided by Jared Allen against the Vikings in 2012, started at right guard for the Colts in their 24-13 victory over the Broncos. Louis, who did not play in 2013, has started nine games for the Colts, including the last five at right guard.

And South Sider Darius Fleming, the St. Rita product who missed his first two NFL seasons with the 49ers because of back-to-back torn ACL injuries, had one special-teams tackle for the Patriots in their 35-31 victory over the Ravens.