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Analyzing Giants' controversial ruling

NFL on FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira answers it all.
NFL on FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira answers it all.
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Mike Pereira

Mike Pereira was the NFL's Vice President of Officiating from 2004-09, having spent the five seasons previous to that as the league's Director of Officiating. He also served as an NFL game official when he acted as a side judge for two seasons (1997-98). Follow him on Twitter.

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Giving yourself up …

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Remember that phrase, because it might become this year’s version of "completing the catch" in the NFL.

I guarantee you the Arizona Cardinals won’t soon forget it.

If you remember in Week 1 of the 2010 NFL season, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson caught what appeared to be a late touchdown pass that would have given the Lions a win over Chicago. Johnson, however, didn’t complete the process of the catch. The touchdown was reversed and ruled to be an incompletion and the Bears held on to win the game. It was a call — and a phrase — that was talked about all season long.

Fast forward to Week 4 of 2011, and Sunday’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The New York Giants were trailing Arizona, 27-24 late in the fourth quarter. With 3:10 remaining, Giants quarterback Eli Manning hit Victor Cruz on a first down completion for 19 yards to the Arizona 29-yard line. Cruz looked like he stumbled, then went to the ground, untouched.

As Cruz was getting up, he flicked the ball out of his hand and several Cardinals pounced on the ball, thinking they had recovered a fumble.

The officials ruled that Cruz "gave himself up" and therefore it was not a fumble. To begin with, we must refer to the specific NFL rule. Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1 (e) states that "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."

Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt threw a challenge flag, but the officials told him the play was not reviewable. That is correct. On the very next play, Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for 29 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.

To me, the Cruz play is exactly like the ruling of forward progress. It is 100 percent a judgment call, and therefore, not reviewable.

Also, since the ruling killed the play, there is no way that the Cardinals could have gotten the ball. Keep in mind, the ruling was not down by contact, but rather that Cruz gave himself up.

In the end, it’s one person’s judgment against another.

I remember the play years ago when Plaxico Burress was with the Steelers, when he got up off the ground after a catch and spiked the ball backwards. He was not down by contact and the ball was awarded to the defense.

I also remember the play involving the Chargers and the Raiders, when a Chargers player got up off the ground and spiked the ball forward. Since it was beyond the neutral zone, it became an illegal forward pass.

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This Cruz ruling is one similar to the magnitude of the Calvin Johnson decision from last year. It can really affect the outcome of a season for a team, both in a positive and negative way. With the win, the Giants improved to 3-1, while the Cardinals fell to 1-3.

In the end, I think the league will defend the decision that was made on the field. There is no argument that this was a 100 percent judgment call. None are ever easy and are always subject to criticism. This was one of the tougher ones.

But in my opinion, Cruz slipped and stumbled and didn’t fall to the ground to give himself up. I think it should have been ruled a fumble. I just don’t see this as the normal way a player would give himself up.

He was clearly moving forward and gaining yardage when he went to the ground. I don’t think the rule was meant to protect him in this situation.

But then again, I had plenty time to look at several replays before forming my opinion. The officials on the field in Arizona had to make a split-second decision.

Let’s a take a look at some of the other key calls from Sunday.

THE GAME: San Francisco at Philadelphia

THE SITUATION: Philadelphia had the ball, third-and-goal at the San Francisco 1-yard line with 7:03 left in the second quarter. Philadelphia led 10-3.

THE PLAY: Philadelphia running back Ronnie Brown took a handoff and was initially stopped at the line of scrimmage. As he was going down, Brown attempted to pass the ball backwards and the ball was fumbled and recovered by San Francisco’s Navorro Bowman. Philadelphia challenged the fumble ruling and the play was upheld. Philadelphia lost a timeout.

MY TAKE: As Vince Lombardi said, "What the heck is going on out there!’’ I’m sure that when the officials saw this, they didn’t know what to think, because you would never think about a player trying to attempt a backwards pass in this situation.

The officials were correct to react by not calling anything initially, then ruling it a fumble and giving the ball to San Francisco.

When a player attempts a backward pass, the ball remains alive when it hits the ground. San Francisco’s recovery was a legal recovery.

Interesting how they had to look at this to see if the pass was forward or backward. If they had determined it was forward, then they would have had to determine if it was behind or beyond the line of scrimmage. If it was from behind, it would have been an incomplete pass, and if it was beyond, it would have been an illegal forward pass.

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THE GAME: Buffalo at Cincinnati

THE SITUATION: Cincinnati had the ball, third-and-3 at the Cincinnati 43-yard line with 52 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The score was tied at 20.

THE PLAY: Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton scrambled to the right side and ran out of bounds. The ball was spotted for a 2-yard gain, a yard short of the first down. The replay assistant challenged the first down ruling and the play was reversed, giving Cincinnati the first down. Two plays later, the Bengals kicked a 43-yard goal as time expired to win the game.

MY TAKE: Wow, what a huge effect instant replay had in this game. Without this reversal, the Bengals may have to give up the football. And without the actual line on the field showing the 46-yard line, the officials wouldn’t have had the proper vantage point to move the ball. They had indisputable visual evidence that Dalton stretched out and was not down until the tip of the ball reached the 46-yard line. The referee was able to move the ball forward to that point, giving the Bengals a first down.

Progress spots are so hard to get right. Confusing things even more, the "yellow first down line’’ that’s used by television was a yard off, making it initially look like Dalton was short. The yellow line marker is not official … and that’s why.

THE GAME: Atlanta at Seattle

THE SITUATION: Seattle had the ball, second-and-8 from the Seattle 18-yard line with 8:56 left in the second quarter. Atlanta led 14-0.

THE PLAY: Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson attempted a 19-yard pass to Doug Baldwin, who was hit immediately and fumbled the ball. It was recovered by Seattle’s Anthony McCoy at the 39-yard line. The sequence was ruled a catch and a fumble on the field. Atlanta challenged the pass completion ruling and the play was reversed.

MY TAKE: This was a good reversal in replay. The basic premise is that is if there is any question whether a pass is complete or incomplete, it is to be ruled incomplete.

This was a bang-bang play. The rule states that in order for this to be a completion, the receiver must complete three acts: A. He must get total control of the football, which Baldwin did. B. He must get both feet clearly on the ground. And then C, after completing acts A and B, he must maintain control of the ball long enough to perform an act common to the game of football, which is to say, pitch it; pass it; etc.

We all must remember that this play will be looked at in "real speed’’ by the officials and not in slow motion. Slow motion distorts the time frame that is referred to in C. In real time, this is clearly incomplete.

THE GAME: Detroit at Dallas

THE SITUATION: Dallas had the ball, second-and-6 at the Detroit 14-yard line with 12:27 left in the third quarter. Dallas led 20-3.

THE PLAY: Dallas quarterback Tony Romo completed a pass to Kevin Ogletree, who was pushed out of bounds at the Detroit 1-yard line. Dallas challenged the runner-broke-the-plane ruling, and the play was upheld. Dallas lost a timeout.

MY TAKE: The goal line no longer extends around the world, except in one situation. In order for this to be a touchdown, Ogletree’s left foot would have had to come down inbounds in the end zone. If that happened, then the goal line does extend and all the ball has to do is break the plane.

Since Ogletree went from inbounds to out-of-bounds, the rule states that the ball must cross over or inside the pylon for it to be a touchdown. It was a good call on the field and the call was correctly confirmed in replay.

THE GAME: Minnesota at Kansas City

THE SITUATION: Minnesota had the ball, third-and-1 from the Kansas City 1-yard line with 5:50 left in the fourth quarter. Kansas City led 22-10.

THE PLAY: Minnesota quarterback Donovan McNabb completed a pass to Michael Jenkins that was ruled a 1-yard touchdown.

MY TAKE: I think the replay official erred in not stopping this play. Not only is it too close to confirm, but I think the pass was incomplete.

Replays show that when the Jenkins got control of the ball, his left foot was off the ground. His right foot actually came down twice inbounds, but the left foot never does. In order to complete a catch, both feet must come down inbounds. Two touches of one foot do not equal a catch.

This is the second time I’ve seen this type of play this year. Replay had a tough time during Week 2, with regard to the new rule of reviewing all scoring plays. This is another one, in my opinion, where the replay official went too fast to confirm and actually allowed a touchdown that wasn’t.

You can follow Mike Pereira on Twitter right here.
 

Tagged: Bengals, Cowboys, Lions, Vikings, Giants, Seahawks, Cardinals, Eli Manning, Calvin Johnson, Kevin Ogletree, Victor Cruz, Andy Dalton

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