October 02, 2011
With 3:00 remaining in the game and the Giants trailing by three, wide receiver Victor Cruz(notes) fell to the ground untouched and dropped the football as he rose from the turf. Arizona recovered and, for a moment, it appeared the Cardinals would gain possession and begin running out the clock en route to the team's second victory of 2011. Game officials had a different idea:
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn't allowed to challenge the call because officials ruled Cruz had given himself up, sort of like a sliding quarterback or a player running out of bounds. That determination is considered a judgment call and isn't subject to replay review, a crucial point we'll get back to soon.
On the next play, Manning threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks(notes) to give the Giants a 31-27 lead. Arizona failed to score on its next possession and thanks, in large part, to the Cruz non-fumble, New York had a surprising come-from-behind victory and moved into a tie for the NFC East lead.
Was it the right call? The NFL insists it was. Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the league, tweeted the official wording of the rule following the game. It states that the "official shall declare ball dead ...when runner declares himself down by falling to ground or kneeling & making no effort to advance."
Others disagreed with the interpretation. Mike Pereira, the NFL's former vice president of officiating, told Fox that the spirit of the call was wrong and that whistling the play dead "saved [Cruz] from his own stupidity."
Over on NBC, Tony Dungy ripped the call, too. "We coach that situation," he said. "You [give yourself up] by sliding feet first or staying on the ground."
Is it possible for all three to be correct? If players are allowed to fall to the ground and officials can determine that they've made "no effort to advance," then this was a correct application of the rule. In that case, it's not the officials that were wrong, but the spirit of the rule itself.
Much like the tuck rule or the Calvin Johnson rule, this one doesn't pass the smell test. It looked like a fumble. Cruz went down, wasn't touched, got up and dropped the ball. When have you ever heard a whistle blow after a receiver falls to the ground and isn't touched? Defenders always go over and slap a hand on the downed ball carrier. Why should Cruz get the benefit of the doubt; because he got up like a fool and nonchalantly dropped the ball?
The NFL claims it doesn't care about intent, which is why James Harrison(notes) and other hard-hitters end up writing so many checks for fines. Yet in this case, the league is saying intent is the only thing that matters. The officials believe Cruz was giving himself up, so the play is dead. That's absurd. If we're going to let guys dive headfirst and then act like they're down, we might as well outlaw tackling.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked about the play after the game but refused to criticize the officials. "It shouldn't have come to that play," he told reporters.
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