Bengals undone by right call, bad rule

November, 20, 2011
11/20/11
7:23
PM ET
BALTIMORE -- The Bengals didn't lose because of bad officiating. They lost their chance at a first-place tie as well as increased respect around the league because of a bad rule.

[+] EnlargeJermaine Gresham
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireCincinnati's Jermaine Gresham watches the scoreboard replay as his touchdown catch is reviewed in the second half against Baltimore.
Jermaine Gresham's 9-yard touchdown catch was reversed by replay when referee Ron Winter saw the tight end lose control of the ball while going to the ground. As a result of taking away the third-down touchdown grab, the Bengals had to settle for a field goal to cut the fourth-quarter deficit to 31-24. If the NFL had changed the "Calvin Johnson rule" -- the Detroit Lions receiver had a spectacular touchdown taken away in the same fashion -- the Bengals would have trailed the Ravens by three points (31-28) with 5:35 left in the game.

How big was that reversal? The Bengals would've only needed a field goal to tie the game on the final drive instead of a touchdown. Cincinnati moved the ball to the Ravens' 7-yard line with under a minute left and quarterback Andy Dalton had to go to the end zone. The Bengals eventually lost, 31-24, to the Ravens.

It's a rule that needs to be changed, but probably won't. My eyes saw a touchdown. Common sense says it's a touchdown. Gresham crossed the plane of the goal line with ball in hand. The NFL rule book says otherwise. The reason: he didn't have control of the ball for what seemed like seconds after he reached the end zone.

"When the receiver went to the ground, he had the ball in his right hand, the ball touched the ground and his hand came off he ball by about that much," Winter said, holding his fingers apart by an inch. "He then re-grasped it and brought it in."

It's a silly rule. It's right up there with the Tuck Rule. So let me get this straight: the ground can't cause a fumble but it can cause an incompletion?

Here's the reaction from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis: "He broke the plane with the ball outside the end zone and then crossed the end zone with the ball and possession. So, I would think it would be a touchdown."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he agreed with the rule even before it benefited his team Sunday. "I think what you want to do with the officials is you want to draw a bright line: catch or no catch," Harbaugh said. "All the players know now, when you go to the ground, you have to come up with the ball in both hands. Basically, you have to hand the ball to the official."

The officials weren't at fault. It's actually the NFL competition committee -- and not Gresham -- who really dropped the ball. The league had a chance to revise the rule after all the attention that came from Johnson's catch ... I mean no catch. But the NFL kept the rule intact, much to the dismay of the Bengals.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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