It had all the makings of a bonehead play, but Victor Cruz is one lucky guy, much to the chagrin of the Arizona Cardinals and their fans.
With three minutes left in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, and his New York Giants trailing by three points, Cruz made a catch in Cardinals territory and turned upfield. Then, without being touched, the receiver went to the ground and voluntarily let go of the ball.
Cruz said he believed he'd been touched by a defender. But he wasn't, so that's a fumble, right? Cardinals defensive back Richard Marshall certainly believed so, which is why he scooped up the ball and ran with it.
One problem: The referees ruled Cruz down by non-contact (you read that right). Sound weird? Well, the NFL rule book allows officials the leeway to make that call.
The language, per the rule book: "Official shall declare ball dead ... when runner declares himself down by falling to ground or kneeling & making no effort to advance."
That's where it gets tricky. Did Cruz "declare himself down," even though he said he believed he was touched, or did he just stumble and fall? It's a judgment call that Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice president of officiating who now works as a Fox analyst, believed the refs got wrong.
"I don't know that he gave himself up," Pereira said. "When you talk about giving yourself, you are actually talking about deliberately going to the ground. I think he stumbles and then lets the ball go. I think you have to play that."
Even Giants quarterback Eli Manning agreed, saying "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."
If this play happens early in the game, it's probably not as big of a deal. But given the timing and that it kept the Giants' drive alive, allowing Manning to hit Hakeem Nicks for the go-ahead (and eventual winning) touchdown, this controversy is sure to keep fans disgruntled in the desert.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.