Please, NFL, takes us back to the days when a catch was a catch

I’m with Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti when it comes to the NFL’s nit-picky reviews of what is a catch and what isn’t, a debate that slowed celebrations again at two crucial moments in Sunday’s Super Bowl LII.

“The whole thing is stupid,” said Bisciotti, whose team didn’t even play in that game. “Start over. It’s just ridiculous.”

Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz dives for a touchdown past New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty in the third quarter of Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Secure the ball. Two feet down in bounds. Bingo. That’s what is required by the NFL in the rule’s simplest form, and how it used to be judged in real time by referees who got most of them right and missed a few without the support or the dissent of an instant-replay review team in New York.

Now, however, doubt is the strongest instant emotion that fans can afford to invest in any spectacular catch. It’s up to a frame-by-frame analysis of the video, examined over several minutes, to determine whether it is finally safe to cheer or boo or head for the exits based on what just happened right in front of their eyes.

Wait a minute. Did the ball wobble in his arms while a receiver is getting blasted by a linebacker, or do we give him due credit for merely retaining possession of all his teeth under the force of that hit? To me, it’s the latter.

There are hundreds of amazing catches in the history of this league that would be wiped out if the video vultures went back and feasted on them now. With the amount of coordination and pluck that is needed to fit some of those passes in there and to snatch them out of the air in heavy traffic, is it realistic to demand an additional layer of precision, almost surgical precision, before a catch can count?

In baseball there are arguments every inning over what constitutes a strike, but if a player or a manager can’t accept that judgment call in the moment, he gets tossed and the game goes on without him. The way that instant replay is creeping into bang-bang calls at the bases is a worrisome trend. It slows down a game that already is too slow. It pretends that sports can be made perfect.

This wonderment over the shifting definition of a completed pass in football is a result of our love affair with technology. It has reached its zenith in tennis, where calls on whether a ball is in or out are settled by the display of an animated replay that is accepted with the same validity of an actual camera shot. The Great Cartoon has spoken. The Great Cartoon knows all and sees all.

As that other great cartoon, Charlie Brown, often says, I can’t stand it.

What is a basket in the NBA? Everybody knows that, and if the answer was even a little bit fuzzy they couldn’t play the game.

It works the same way in other sports, too, when it comes to the absolute basics.

What is a lost ball in golf? When you can’t find it, right?

What is a strike in bowling? When all of the pins get splattered and much of the beer gets spilled.

What is a knuckle sandwich in hockey? Again, you don’t even belong in the arena if a clinical explanation is needed.

So the NFL stands at a real crossroads here. Figure out the catch thing. This isn’t a video game. It’s real, and it’s really hard to get it right when the league keeps piling on reasons why a difficult touchdown grab is wrong.

[Eagles go from losers to champs in one year, but what about Miami?]

[Dan Mullen predicts national title for Gators but doesn’t say when]

[Eagles coach Doug Pederson once saved Shula’s bacon as backup QB]

 

Ravens have a sophisticated scoring weapon that Dolphins lack

Looks like a potential playoff preview this week as the Miami Dolphins, a potential wild-card team, travel to Baltimore, a potential AFC North champion.

Man, does that ever sound wishy-washy. Let’s get down to some details instead.

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker celebrates after kicking a 52-yards field goal against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first quarter on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016 at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. Tucker successfully kicked three field goals over 50 yards in the first half against the Bengals. Baltimore dropped Cincinnati, 19-14. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS)
Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker celebrates after kicking a 52-yard field goal against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first quarter on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016 at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. Tucker successfully kicked three field goals over 50 yards in the first half against the Bengals. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

If the Dolphins come down to another fourth-quarter frenzy of a finish, with every play important and every point essential, the Ravens have a sophisticated weapon on their roster that Adam Gase does not.

Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker made field goals from 57, 54 and 52 yards in Sunday’s 19-14 win over Cincinnati. Obviously, the Ravens don’t win that game without him. Oh, and don’t forget the 54-yarder that Tucker made to pull out a 19-17 win over Jacksonville in September.

Overall, Tucker is perfect in 27 tries this season, and seven of those have come from 50-plus.

Compare that to Miami’s Andrew Franks, who has been just fine at 13-of-16 successful kicks but has yet to make a long one. His only try was a 50-yard miss against Pittsburgh in Week 6.

In his two-year Dolphins career, Franks is 1-for-3 from 50-plus. I’m starting to think that Gase is wary to send him out there unless there’s an easy opportunity to get the ball up quickly and through. Twice this season Franks has had kicks blocked from inside 30 yards, which is closer even than an extra point. That’s a fundamental problem and one that is accentuated when a kicker is trying to get extra oomph on a distant try.

In Sunday’s 31-24 win over San Francisco, Gase passed on a 52-yard try for Franks in the third quarter when the Dolphins’ lead was only 17-14. He opted for the punt team, which resulted in a touchback, and explain his decision by saying “we had a chance to pin them back there” and “I have a lot of confidence in (Matt Darr) to put that thing inside the 5.”

If he had the same confidence that Franks could nail one from 50-plus, the way that Tucker always does, Gase would have looked at that as a scoring opportunity instead.

[Tim Tebow’s Arizona Fall League has ended but look for him again in spring]

[One recent Dolphins head coach made quite an impression on Adam Gase]

[FAU job was tough enough without Butch Davis moving in next door]

Former Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis wasn’t automatic from any range but he had the leg for home-run shots. He made 6-of-13 from 50-plus in two years with Miami and he’s made 5-of-8 from long range since going to the Eagles in 2015.

With all of the issues that Gase had in his first year with the Dolphins, the place-kicking game probably didn’t get as much attention as it will this offseason.

Wouldn’t be a surprise if the rookie head coach, pushing for bonus points wherever he can find them, makes a change at this position in search of another true weapon and not just an adequate performer like Franks.

Six good reasons why the Ravens signed Devin Hester this week

 

Devin Hester is back in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, who signed him this week and plan to use him right away as a kickoff and punt returner in Sunday’s season opener against Buffalo.

Former Suncoast High School and Chicago Bears star Devin Hester runs drills with participants during his football camp at Suncoast Community High School on Saturday, March 15, 2014 in Riviera Beach. Over 200 children participated in the camp. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)
Former Suncoast High School star Devin Hester runs drills with participants during his 2014 football camp in Riviera Beach. Over 200 children participated in the camp. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)

Not much I can tell you about Devin that folks around here don’t already know. He was a Parade All-America at Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach. That made him a five-star recruit but the Miami Hurricanes kept him in South Florida.

UM’s reward was a full bag of tricks displayed by Hester every Saturday. In just three seasons, before deciding to skip his senior year and turn pro, Devin scored six touchdowns on kick returns and one each rushing and receiving. He also intercepted five passes. Most memorable of all was a 98-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff of a 38-31 win over Florida in 2003.

On to the NFL, where Hester established himself as the greatest return threat ever. In eight years with Chicago and two more in Atlanta he set league records for most career punt return touchdowns (14), most kickoff and punt return touchdowns combined (19) and most non-offensive touchdowns (20, including one on the return of a missed field-goal attempt).

Problem is, he’s coming off toe surgery in January, was released by the Falcons in July and is approaching his 34th birthday. So why are the Ravens interested in giving Hester a try when other teams won’t?

Here are six good reasons. We chose half a dozen because that’s what Hester always has been known for producing, a quick six.

  1. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was a special-teams coordinator for 11 years before becoming an NFL head coach. He fixated on the return game for the Cincinnati Bearcats, the Indiana Hoosiers and, for nine years, the Philadelphia Eagles. If anyone knows how rare Hester’s instincts are, it’s a guy like Harbaugh.
  2. The Ravens were 5-11 last year and ranked 25th in the league in scoring. The return game contributed very little to that output, with one punt brought back for a touchdown and no kickoff returns past midfield. Whatever Hester brings will be a plus.
  3. Blazing speed isn’t the only factor in making a return work. As Hester told reporters at his Ravens’ introduction: “Everybody out here can run fast, can make guys miss, but I feel as though when you’re back there you’ve got to be able to manage the game. You’ve got to make the right decisions, pick up small instincts just by repetition, and I feel like I’ve put a lot of time in it from the returner’s standpoint.”
  4. Hester leads active NFL players in yards per touch. Over his career he’s been good for an average of 16.1 yards every time the ball winds up in his hands. Who doesn’t need some of that, or at least the threat of it?
  5. Hester has been friends with Deion Sanders since his college days at Miami. They share the same competitive drive and the willingness to take risks. Taking another shot with the Ravens and potentially doing harm to his legacy doesn’t bother Devin, who says “Not a day goes by where I don’t feel like I have to improve. Deep down inside, I still feel like I have a lot more to prove.”
  6. The Dolphins play Baltimore on Dec. 4, which means that Hester will probably do something crazy and have Palm Beach County fans wondering all over again how great it would have been to have this amazing athlete on Miami’s roster at one time or another. Same goes, for that matter, with Pahokee’s Anquan Boldin.

[AP’s all-time Top 100 favors Buckeyes, but FSU is on fastest climb]

[A look at 1985 Dolphins, all loaded up for Super Bowl return that never came]

[Which of our state’s head coaches would you want quarterbacking your team?]