- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Thousands of lungs emptied in jubilant exhalation at Soldier Field on Sunday, as officials announced the findings from a booth review that would decide the final outcome of the Bears’ 19-14 victory over the Detroit Lions.
Contrary to the perceptions of some, the Bears didn’t get away with one when officials stood by their initial ruling of incomplete on a pass that looked to be a 28-yard touchdown reception by Calvin Johnson, which would’ve won the game for the Detroit Lions.
Based on the wording of the rule applied, officials made the correct call, according to referee Gene Steratore, who explained the call just minutes after the game.
Asked what rule was applied, Steratore said: “the ruling is that in order for the catch to be completed, he has got to maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire process of the catch.”
Johnson clearly didn’t demonstrate that on the play in question. After making the catch and falling on his backside, Johnson rolled over with his right hand extended holding the ball, which popped out as the receiver regained his footing to celebrate.
What if Johnson never rolled over and remained on his behind after making the catch? Would officials have ruled the play a touchdown, then?
“No,” Steratore said. “We don’t play with the two feet or one knee or anything of that scenario. We’re talking now about the process of the catch. He’s catching the football. As he goes to the ground, he must maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire process. So as he continues to fall … if he fell with two feet and his elbow hit the ground, and it came out, it would be incomplete.”
While Johnson appeared to hold the ball up in one hand from somewhat of a sitting position in the end zone, Steratore said the “process” of making the catch wasn’t complete “until he finished that roll” as he was getting up off the turf.
“That’s the rule,” Bears tight end Greg Olsen said. “If you catch the ball going to the ground, you have to hold it the whole way through. It’s pretty cut and dry. That’s happened to all of us. You catch the ball, get hit, hit the ground and the ball pops out. That’s the way it goes.”
Bears linebacker Lance Briggs compared Johnson’s play to a similar occurrence from another matchup with an NFC North foe. Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings lost a potential TD last season against the Bears in a similar fashion.
“On the play to Johnson, it made my stomach turn,” Briggs said. “I hate stuff like that. It reminded me of the Green Bay game last year. You play great defense all game, and you give up one big play.”
That’s nearly what happened when Johnson made the dazzling play with 31 seconds remaining.
“Game over”, he thought.
Wrong, Johnson soon learned.
“The first thing that went through my head was that we finally won in Chicago,” Johnson said. “I found out after I sprinted halfway across the field that it didn’t count.”