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Former graders: Split decision on Cruz catch


Football Zebras Roundtable

We covered at length the differences between two process-of-the-catch calls from Sunday’s games. Lions receiver Calvin Johnson had a touchdown taken away because he bobbled the ball as he went to the ground. Giants receiver Victor Cruz also had lost possession when he dove for the end zone, but his catch was ruled a touchdown. In our assessment, these calls were both correct.

Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira agreed with the call on the Calvin Johnson play, but posted on Twitter that he did not agree with the call on the Victor Cruz catch.

To reach a consensus, we contacted Larry Upson and Jim Daopoulos, two former officiating supervisors, for their interpretation. Both worked under Pereira in the league office.

Calvin Johnson play

Call on the field: After replay, incomplete pass (video).

Larry Upson: I see the Calvin Johnson no-catch as a no-brainer. He clearly loses a catch and touchdown when, in the act of completing the catch, his right hand comes off the ball as the ball is bouncing off the turf. The movement is ever so slight, but more than enough to make this an incomplete pass.

Jim Daopoulos: Johnson was extended, making a great catch. Prior to getting his second foot on the ground, he was extending (after defensive contact) to the goal, and the ball contacted the ground and moved in his hands. By rule, this is an incomplete pass and correctly reversed and explained by referee John Parry.

Victor Cruz play

Call on the field: Complete pass, touchdown, no replay review (video).

Upson: On the Cruz play, the way I see it, the receiver is not going to the ground as a part of the act to complete the catch. He has completed the act and is now being tackled. As he is being tackled, he lunges toward the goal line (a second act) and loses the ball after it has broken the plane. We would handle this the same way we would handle any runner who loses the ball after it has broken the plane, no fumble.

Daopoulos: The officials are taught to look for three parts to the catch: (1) control the ball, (2) get two feet down, and (3) if those two things are accomplished, look for an act common to the game. Cruz caught the ball in an upright position, landed on both feet and was contacted by a defender. He lunged for the goal line and broke the plane in possession of the ball. This is a touchdown.

Here is the grading card for the plays:

   Daopoulos Pereira Upson
Calvin Johnson incomplete Checkmark Checkmark Checkmark
Victor Cruz complete Checkmark Ding Checkmark

The league declined to comment on the calls. Michael Signora, vice president of football communications, told Football Zebras, “Other than point out the rule, which you already know, we are not commenting on the specific judgment calls.”

Football Zebras Roundtable is a periodic feature we will present on an ad-hoc basis to analyze select calls with experts.

Images: Gavin Smith/Detroit Lions, New York Giants photo

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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3 thoughts on “Former graders: Split decision on Cruz catch

  1. After looking at the video multiple times, I’m not sure I can agree with the assertion that Cruz placed the second foot on the ground before performing a “football move”. It’s certainly not conclusive in the video, but it appears to me that the Cowboys defender in this case sweeps the trailing leg, preventing it from touching the ground and providing the real force driving Cruz’s rotation toward the goal line.

    The football move must take place after establishing control and no longer being airborne by having two feet or any other part of the body (other than hands) contacting the ground. The key part of rule 8-1-3 is in paragraph (c): “after (a) [control] and (b) [no longer airborne] have been fulfilled”, then you check for time to make a football move. By the time that Cruz is no longer airborne (presuming I am right about the trailing leg being swept and not touching the ground), gravity is taking him to the ground, and he must maintain control (via Item 1, which states it applies with or without contact by an opponent). That a defender may have prolonged his time being airborne is not considered by the rules (except if an airborne player is carried out of bounds [8-1-6]).

    That would be my reasoning for asserting that the Cruz catch should have been ruled incomplete.

  2. Daopoulos’ and Upton’s analysis of the Cruz play is way flawed.

    You guys have the order of operations way out of sequence.

    Both guys caught the ball while off the ground. Both players fell across the goalline while trying to establish possession.

    Johnson: 1. had the ball firmly in his hands 2. got his feet down and 3. sprung himself forward and reached out across the goal line. With all that said he was falling even if he made football moves after establishing 1 and 2 so Calvin was required to maintain possession. Incomplete.

    Cruz 1. Caught the ball a had it firmly. 3. reached out to exend the ball over the line. THEN 2. He got both feet down one millisecond before the ball came loose. Cruz didn’t satisfy contol and feet down before making a move common to the game. Incomplete.

    It doesnt matter that Cruz was actively being tackled. It is up to him to get his feet down and demonstrate control after that. He didn’t. He was falling and didn’t maintain possession.

    Also, Cruz didn’t “Lunge” he reached out. Lunging would imply he used his feet to get the ball across the line. Cruz (and his feet) were falling the entire time he did have the ball.

    Cruz can’t

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