When is a fumble not a fumble? When it was on purpose.
A controversial referee's decision on what seemed to be a fumble by Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz may have helped tip the balance of power in the climactic moments of New York's comeback win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Trailing the Cardinals, 27-24 with just over three minutes remaining, Eli Manning completed a pass to Cruz for a first down. The wideout caught the ball while facing his quarterback at the Cardinals' 44-yard line. Once he had the ball, he turned upfield and began looking to pick up yards after the catch. He spun away from the first would-be tackler, putting a hand to the ground to brace himself. Cruz kept running upfield, jab stepping hard to his left to slow another defender and then continuing to his right. And then he fell to the ground, untouched.
Inexplicably, or so it seemed at the time, Cruz laid the ball on the turf and popped up. The Cardinals' defenders picked up the ball, cracked Cruz and began celebrating their good fortune. Fumble? Fumble!
False. After conferring, the referees ruled that the play was dead and the ball was not fumbled. Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt then attempted to challenge the call. But his red flag was returned as he was informed that this play could not be challenged as it was a judgment call. No kidding.
By the judgment of referee Jerome Boger, Cruz had gone to the ground in a fashion that indicated he was declaring himself down. According to the NFL rulebook, a runner can declare himself down "by falling to the ground, or kneeling, and making no effort to advance."
For his part, Cruz later admitted that he thought he'd been touched by a defender.
"I saw the guy coming and I wanted to get down," Cruz said after the game. "I thought I was tagged down and I got up and was going to the next play. I thought I was touched so the ref called it down. I felt like I was touched, I thought somebody touched me. I guess in the heat of the moment you probably don't feel it or you think someone touched you, but I definitely thought I was touched."
Cruz's version of events doesn't seem to suggest that he felt he was giving himself up. He admits that he mistakenly thought he was tackled. By his explanation, this play seems like it should have been a fumble.
Last week, FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira came out on the side of the officiating crew after a controversial holding call negated a touchdown on a stunning trick return play. On Sunday, the former head of NFL refs was not as sympathetic.
According to Mike Garafalo of The Star Ledger, the current officiating guru at the NFL, Carl Johnson, was fine with the call regardless of how Pereira felt.
Needless to say the Giants players were also OK with the decision, even if they didn't quite think they deserved to have kept the ball.
“We got a break on that one,” Manning told the press corps after the game. Manning took advantage of his team's good fortune immediately. On the next play, he tossed a game-winning touchdown to Hakeem Nicks.