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Monday, October 3, 2011
Breaking down 'The Victor Cruz Rule'

By Mike Mazzeo


If you were yelling at your television screen after Victor Cruz’s “fumble” late in Sunday afternoon’s 31-27 Giants’ victory over the Cardinals, you were not alone.

Across the country, football fans were wondering to themselves: “What the heck was he thinking?”

What looked like a simple 19-yard reception turned into quite the controversy after Cruz -- in one major mental gaffe -- appeared to drop the ball before he was touched by an Arizona defender. Even his Giants teammates thought so.

As you probably know by now, the officials ruled that Cruz had given himself up, allowing New York to keep possession of the ball and score the game-winning touchdown on the next play.

Was it a fumble? Given the current rule -- or what has become “The Victor Cruz Rule” -- no. But that may very-well change because of this particular play.

As we’ve done in the past, ESPN NewYork.com decided to break it down.

The setup: First-and-10 New York from the Arizona 48-yard line. Three minutes, 10 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Cardinals leading the Giants 27-24.

The formation: The Giants are lined up in a four-wide receiver, one-running back formation. Cruz is stationed slot left.

The play: Cruz runs a route about 15 yards downfield. He clearly isn’t Eli Manning’s first option, as the Giants quarterback quickly looks him off and begins to see what develops on the right side of the field. But after realizing that no one is open and his pocket is beginning to collapse, a desperate Manning takes three steps to his left, sees Cruz coming back to the ball, squares his shoulders and delivers a strike to his wide receiver just inside the 35-yard line. Cruz eludes a diving Michael Adams and begins matriculating up the field to try and gain extra yardage. But in his haste, Cruz realizes that both Kerry Rhodes and Patrick Peterson are converging on him, so he drops to his knees at the 30 before lying completely on the turf. Cruz begins getting back to his knees at the 29, just as it looks like Peterson is going to touch him down. The wide receiver turns to his right and gets up, but drops the ball and is drilled by Rhodes as Rashard Marshall scoops up the ball. The Cardinals begin pointing as if they’ve recovered. Oh no! Manning puts his hands on top of his head. Cruz just fumbled! ... Or did he?

The chaos: Just as Marshall is about to turn up field and to try to scoop and score, the side judge waves his arms up and down as if to signal the play dead. A clearly frustrated Marshall jumps up in the air then points to his sideline, wondering what the heck is going on. Players from both teams are pointing in opposite directions. The Cardinals continue arguing, while the Giants try to line up and run a quick run to the right for Ahmad Bradshaw before the play can be reviewed. More whistles. More yelling. Ken Whisenhunt fires a red challenge flag on the field. With 2:51 remaining, we finally get a verdict from referee Jerome Boger: “The ruling on the previous play is that the receiver gave himself up by going to the ground. That cannot be challenged ... so there is no challenge ... it’ll be first down ...” Boos follow. A lot of boos.

The rule: According to Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1(e), “an official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended when a runner is out of bounds, or declares himself down by falling to the ground, or kneeling, and making no effort to advance.”

The aftermath: Five seconds later, on the very next play, Manning hooks up with Hakeem Nicks on a 29-yard go-route down the left sideline for the game-winning touchdown. The Giants complete a 10-point comeback with less than five minutes left, stunning the Cardinals, 31-27.

The quotes: “I saw the guy coming and I wanted to get down. 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, Sunday

“I don’t think so. I went forward, I got down. I didn’t chose to go forward anymore. I declared myself down, and I honestly thought someone tapped me while I was down. But, then I got up and tried to go forward to the next play. But I don’t think it was a fumble at all.” -- Cruz, Monday

“In Giants game -- in my opinion it should have been ruled a fumble.” -- former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira

The Newark Star-Ledger reported Monday that Carl Johnson, the league's vice president of officiating, agreed with the call on Cruz's play. The newspaper cited a source informed of Johnson's review of the play in question.

“We got a break on that one I think. I thought it was going to get ruled a fumble and I saw it pretty clear. I don't know what the call was or why.” -- Manning, Sunday

“I have changed my mind. I think he gave himself up. He went down. It wasn’t like a dive. He saw people coming, he went down, he stayed down for a second and was getting back up and coming backwards. I think he declared himself and had given himself up, and I think it was a good call. It’s just one of those deals where you can learn your lesson from it. In that situation, you don’t want to leave it up to the refs to make a call that could possibly lose the game. We always say in the two-minute drive anyway, after you go down, always hand the ball to the referee or the umpire right there, so they can spot it quickly so that the defense can’t kick it around. That’s what we teach in the first place, so I think it’s a good lesson for Victor and all receivers.” -- Manning, Monday

“I'm standing by the way that the rule was interpreted by the officials. If you look at the way that that play took place, there's no question that he was giving himself up, he was headed back to the huddle. I don’t know how you could call it anything else.” -- Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, Monday.

“It was a bad break [for the Cardinals]. But that is probably going to be a rule that is looked at here for next year. The rules allow for you as a receiver in that situation to declare yourself down. And we practice that all the time in our two-minute drills. What he should’ve done is if he was declaring himself down, he would have handed the ball to the referee. In that case we got a break. It’s the NFL, you get those. I have definitely been on my fair share of the other team getting a break too.” -- Justin Tuck on WFAN, Monday.