Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant dives for the end zone...

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant dives for the end zone as Packers cornerback Sam Shields defends during an NFC divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 11, 2015. Credit: AP / Perry Knotts

After years of confusion, debate and yelling in disbelief at the TV, NFL fans might finally find out the answer to what feels like an age-old question: What is a catch?

The NFL revamped its catch rule this offseason, one of many rule changes that will take effect this coming season. Here’s a rundown of what will be different on game day:

Catch rule

The NFL eliminated the “surviving the ground” requirement of the previous catch rule, simplifying it to a three-step process:

1) The player must establish control of the ball (i.e.: not bobble it while catching).

2) The player then must establish himself in bounds – the usual “two feet in bounds” requirement.

3) There must be a “football move” – a third step, or a dive or lunge to the line-to-gain (or the ability to perform such a dive).

Helmet-to-helmet hits

Leading with the head and initiating helmet-to-helmet contact now results in a 15-yard personal foul penalty and possible ejection. The rule applies to tacklers, ballcarriers and linemen. It replaces the old rule that only penalized a player if they hit with the crown of the helmet.


The league passed a litany of rule changes to help make kickoffs safer.

— The kicking team now must have five players on each side of the kicker before kicking off.

— Players on the kicking team can line up no more than one yard behind the ball, effectively eliminating the running starts that previously were allowed.

— At least two players on the kicking team must line up outside the yard-line number, and at least two must line up between the yard-line number and the hash marks.

— At least eight players on the receiving team must line up in a 15-yard “set-up zone” behind its restraining line. Only three players are allowed outside of that zone.

— Until the ball is touched or hits the ground, no member of the receiving team may cross its restraining line or initiate a block in the 15-yard area after the kicking team’s restraining line.

— Wedge blocks are no longer allowed.

— The ball now becomes dead if it’s not touched by the receiving team in the end zone. The ruling on the field would be a touchback.


Al Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, now can order an ejection for a player who has been penalized for a non-football act, such as throwing a punch or fighting, even if it means overruling referees at the game.

All ejections now are reviewable to confirm whether or not the infraction was grounds for the ejection.

Extra points

Teams no longer are required to kick an extra point, go for a two-point conversion or kneel after a score on the final play of regulation.


In overtime, if the team that gets the ball first kicks a field goal on its initial possession and the second team throws an interception or loses a fumble on the ensuing drive, the down will run to its conclusion. This includes any points scored by either team on the play (i.e.: an interception that’s returned for a touchdown, or an interception that’s fumbled by the returning team, recovered by the intercepted team and returned for a game-winning touchdown).

Illegal kicking and batting

The penalty for illegal kicking and illegal batting of a ball both are now 10 yards.


In 2016, an experimental rule was passed to put touchbacks at the 25-yard line. That rule now is permanent.

More football news

Newsday LogoYour Island. Your Community. Your News.Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months