“Stupidity.” That’s how former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira, now an analyst for Fox, cut through the crap surrounding the Victor Cruz play in yesterday’s Cardinals-Giants game. The Giants sealed a 31-27 victory over the Cards when Cruz took a pass from Eli Manning for a 19-yard gain and then went down at the 29-yard line. Cruz went down, but he didn’t come up with the ball.
The Cardinals claimed that it was a fumble — and they were right. As is so often the case on a controversial NFL play, a literal reading of the rulebook only serves to confuse matters.
Check out the entire play and replay, along with some discussion (and then Eli’s game-winning TD pass on the next play).
Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1 in the rulebook specifies that the play will be declared a dead ball “when a runner declares himself down by sliding feet first on the ground.”
We’ve all seen this; it was implemented to keep quarterbacks from getting killed. But Cruz is not a quarterback, and he did not slide feet first. The rule goes on to say, “The ball is dead the instant the runner touches the ground with anything other than his hands or his feet or … declares himself down by falling to the ground or kneeling and making no effort to advance.”
But a close look at the replay indicates that Cruz did not “declare himself down” but looks very much as if he simply stumbled on the play. Cruz said afterward that he thought he had been “down by contact” because he had, just before that, been touched by an Arizona defender. But that contact looked as if it had nothing to do with Cruz’s going down, which appears to happen when he makes a cut back to the inside.
In any event, it looks as if he flips the ball forward and then moves away to go back to the huddle. But the referee’s whistle had not sounded, and no one had touched him. The referee, Jerome Boger, said “Cruz had declared himself down.” Since the play was a judgment call, it was not subject to a challenge.
Boger blew it in every way. If Cruz was down, the ref should have whistled him down. That would have ended the play. He could have moved over to take the ball from Cruz, and that would have ended the play. Boger did neither. Here’s the question that should have been asked: If Cruz wasn’t down by contact — and no one is claiming he was — what would have prevented him from reaching back and picking up the ball after he put it on the ground and then running for a touchdown?
Nothing, apparently. Pereira’s judgment was dead-on: “The official shouldn’t have protected Cruz from his own stupidity.”
Cruz did not seem to release the ball because he had gone down deliberately; he released it because he thought a Cardinal defensive back had touched him while he was on the ground. The Cardinals’ D-back did not touch him.
The league, of course, is now doing its usual job of trying to muffle the incident. Carl Johnson, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, said he agrees with Boger’s call — that is, according to someone supposedly connected to the NFL. Johnson himself had not made a public statement by press time. All we have is someone from the NFL saying that someone said that’s Johnson’s opinion.
Guys, you blew it. At least Eli Manning was honest when he said, “I think we got a big break on that play.”