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SportsMonday: The NFL Rule Book Is Ridiculous

How many people viewing the first replay of the Lion offense's third-to-last play Sunday knew quickly that it was an incompletion?

One in a thousand? One in ten-thousand?

But a majority of the officials knew Calvin Johnson hadn't lived up to the letter of the law and so did analyst Brian Billick. Amazing. Of course the rule requiring a receiver to complete "the process of the catch" and therefore control the ball even beyond having both feet - and his butt and his hand for goodness sakes - down in the end zone is screwed up and should be changed. But it won't happen during the season. And while you would think there might be a quiet meeting of the NFL Rules Committee in the spring or summer of 2011 in which the language defining a catch receives a needed tweaking, don't bet on it. Other obviously ill-conceived bits of NFL regulation remain on the books. Speaking of which . . .

Sunday's controversy called to mind the infamous "Tuck Rule" game played in Foxboro in January 2002. That was the divisional playoff in a picturesque snowstorm in which the Patriots trailed the Raiders 13-10 late in the fourth quarter with quarterback Tom Brady desperately trying to drive them down the field for at least a tying field goal.

With less than two minutes remaining, Brady went back to pass, pumped and then was sacked by Charles Woodson, causing a fumble that was recovered by the Raiders and seemingly sealed the Patriots' fate. But upon review, referee Walt Coleman, citing a rule that stated "any intentional forward movement of (the quarterback's) arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body," concluded that Brady was still tucking the ball back in after a pass attempt and that the play should therefore be ruled an incomplete pass.

Of course the next line of the rule states: "Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble." So while Patriot fans were happy Coleman ruled Brady was still in the process of tucking the ball back in, aggrieved Raider fans could then and still do point out that given the fact that Brady had both hands on the ball when Woodson knocked it away, a better interpretation would have been that Brady had completed the tuck. What everyone could agree on is that the rule was very poorly written.

But as it turns out, the "Tuck Rule" Is still on the books.

And there is only one thing left to say: The NFL Rule Book is Ridiculous - and it has been for more than a decade.

And now for the rest of the lowlights (how can you have highlights when everyone just watched you lose the easiest game on your schedule?). Sure, it doesn't count as a loss but come on . . .

Mike Martz played it incredibly conservatively for much of Sunday's second half. Surely he has never kept that many guys in to block at any of his previous play-calling stops in the NFL. Going with a six-, seven-, or even eight-man lines at various times Sunday made it clear he absolutely does not trust his blockers. Not a good thing. The linemen also struggled mightily in the run game, especially when it counted and starting of course with the instantly infamous failure to score on four cracks from the one-yard line in the fourth quarter.

Right tackle Frank Omiyale set the tone right off the bat when he was blown backward on third-and-one at the one at the end of the first drive of the game. Matt Forte couldn't get out of the backfield and the Bears were forced to go for the field goal.

Of course, Jay Cutler was still sacked several times despite the max protect schemes. Here some of the blame has to shift to the receivers who certainly seemed to struggle to gain consistent separation from defensive backs. I am reminded of the report a friend of mine brought back from Green Bay after the Bears were thumped up there last year. He had great seats at that game and he was able to watch as Bear receivers failed time after time to gain any separation from Packer backs.

The primary drawback to watching games on TV in terms of trying to assess everything that is happening on given plays is that you just can't see most of the secondary most of the time. So we don't know if Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashadu weren't open or if Cutler just missed them as passing play after passing play failed in the second half. I'll tell you what though. I'm guessing they weren't open - and they were facing a banged up Lion secondary. Also not good.

Despite their deficiencies, it is now crystal clear that Aromashadu and Knox are the Bears' top wideouts. Could we finally cut the B.S. and officially shift Devin Hester to the slot? Please?

The luckiest guy on the field by far when Johnson's catch was ruled a non-catch was Lovie Smith. Not only did he benefit from the cursed Lions seizing defeat from the jaws of victory in an incredibly unique way, the play also moved the spotlight away from his despicably dim-witted decision to go for it on fourth down with the lead on the line earlier in the fourth quarter. All that was needed was a chip shot field goal to give the Bears a 16-14 advantage, but instead Lovie had his offense run another running play, another play just like the plays that had failed numerous times earlier in the game. Shockingly, the play failed and the ball went over to the Lions.

The Bears' defense played it exactly wrong on the final drive. The Rod Marinelli-led unit went ultra-conservative at the start, rushing only the basic four linemen and making it easy for the Lions to pick up big chunks of yards to move into scoring position. After the Lions moved inside the 30, the Bears finally decided to pump up the rush, sending a blitz. Unfortunately, that left stud receiver Calvin Johnson in single coverage with Zachary Bowman and led to the ludicrous non-catch with 25 seconds left.

Speaking of which, for 59 minutes Calvin Johnson didn't provide any fodder for the crowd clamoring for the Bears to go get a star wide receiver, whatever the cost. Other than "the catch that should've been," Johnson didn't get the job done. Whether he was failing to get out of bounds in the final minute when it would have been easy to do so or cutting off a critical route a yard short of a first down, Johnson consistently failed to display consistent basic receiver skills.


Jim Coffman brings you SportsMonday every week. He welcomes your comments.

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