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Why Wasn't Sterling Shepard's Catch Ruled A Catch?

The Giants are 0-3 and their offense oscillates between scuffling and a shitshow, but they certainly didn’t get any help on Sunday from the NFL rulebook. Take a look at the GIF above. According to the rules, that Sterling Shepard touchdown catch was not a catch.

Shepard caught the ball, got both feet down inbounds, and corralled the ball until he fell forward and braced himself as he struck the ground, at which point the ball popped loose. He completed what had to be done to make a catch, but the rules say this isn’t so.


Here is Rule 7.2.1(a), which is commonly understood to mean the ground can’t cause a fumble:

The ball is dead the instant the runner touches the ground. So why didn’t that apply to Shepard’s catch? Let’s jump down to the word salad contained in Rule 8.3(a)(b)(c), and the six items required to explain what constitutes a catch:


Shepard successfully completed (a), (b), and (c) by virtue of having secured the ball, touched the ground with both feet, and maintained control to clearly become a runner. But he ran into problems with Item 1 and Item 2 because he “did not maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground,” because he “must maintain complete and continuous control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground.”


But why did Shepard’s feet not count for making contact with the ground? Why, if his feet were down and he’s established he’s got control of the ball, must this be distinguished from the rule that says the ground cannot cause a fumble?

That’s addressed elsewhere, in a footnote deep beneath Rule 3.2.7:


So now (emphasis mine) Shepard also had to maintain control “during and after the ball has touched the ground.” The catch rule remains the best example of the NFL’s ability to overlegislate something to the point of absurdity. Sterling Shepard caught the ball.

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Dom Cosentino

Dom Cosentino is a staff writer at Deadspin.