The end of the Giants-Cardinals game yesterday featured some controversy. With the Giants trailing the Cardinals by 3 points with just over 3 minutes remaining, Victor Cruz of the Giants caught a pass, fell to the ground without being touched by a defender, then got up and let the ball go. Arizona recovered, but the officials ruled that Cruz had given himself up and the play was dead, and further, that Arizona could not challenge that determination. On the very next play, the stunned Cardinals gave up the winning touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks.
Let’s go through the Rule Book and this play. The relevant section is Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1(e). It states, “An official shall declare dead ball and the down ended when a runner . . . declares himself down by falling to the ground, or kneeling, and making no effort to advance.”
Now, I’ll first note that this is different than the feet first sliding rule, which is explicitly spelled out in Article 1(d). Therefore, a player does not have to give himself up only by sliding feet first, or this rule would be superfluous. A player absolutely can go to the ground head first like Cruz did, and be determined to be down and the play ended. The exact action Cruz took could (not should, but could) be determined to constitute “declaring himself down by falling to the ground and making no effort to advance”.
However, my problem with the official’s ruling is that the “making no effort to advance” should be enforced strictly, as in literally the player should lay on the ground until the whistle is blown. Further, the whistle should actually be blown before the player relinquishes possession. The player doesn’t determine when they gave themselves up by getting up and dropping the ball before a whistle. Such a ruling opens a can of worms, as we’ve seen many players get up after mistakenly thinking they were downed by contact or the play was over, and drop the ball or spike it.
I’ve watched the play over and over, and I cannot determine when the whistle first blew and in fact never hear it on the TV feed. However, based on the reaction of the players (you can see the two closest Cardinal defender go to tackle Cruz when he gets up) it highly suggests that no whistle blew and the players thought Cruz was still live and reacting to him still being in play, realizing he had not been touched down. If a whistle had blown, then they committed a potential infraction for a late or unnecessary hit. If it hadn’t blown, I don’t see how an official can rule a player already without possession of the football to have satisfied Rule 7.2.1.d. And if they used his act of relinquishing the football as the basis for determining his intent, then that’s not right. Rising to your feet is an ambiguous act (the defenders can’t trust that he won’t then try to advance) and certainly can’t constitute “making no effort to advance.”
As far as whether the play could be reviewed, the rule book does not specifically mention this type of play (official ruling player to declare himself down) as either a reviewable or non-reviewable play, though it was treated similar to a forward progress ruling. However, in those cases, whether the fumble occurred before forward progress was ruled to be stopped by whistle is reviewable. You just can’t challenge whether the determination of forward progress being stopped was accurate, and whether forward progress was in fact stopped before the whistle blew, or whether the point of forward progress was accurate if not affecting a touchdown or first down.
I think the officials screwed up, and the Cardinals should have been able to challenge whether the player had already lost possession before the whistle was blown, similar to challenging whether a fumble had already occurred before a whistle for forward progress. Like I said, though, I couldn’t ever determine if they did blow the whistle, so it may have been an unsuccessful challenge if there was no evidence. More to the point going forward, for consistency’s sake, a player should have to remain on the ground motionless until the official blows the whistle to take advantage of Rule 7.2.1.d.
And in truth, I don’t think there’s any way Victor Cruz actually intended to go to the ground with the express purpose to give himself up to end the play. I think he, like others before him, just mistakenly thought the play was over once he did go to the ground. In fact, he said “I thought I was touched.”
[photo via Getty]