In Sunday’s game between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz scored on a 28-yard touchdown reception with 8:07 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The ruling on the field was a touchdown, which was then confirmed after an instant replay review.
Referee Jeff Triplette announced the following:
“After reviewing the play, the ruling on the field is confirmed. The receiver caught the ball, stuck it over the goal line – the plane – before he lost possession. It is a touchdown.”
Cruz had firm grip and control of the ball, touched both feet to the ground, and fulfilled the time requirement to complete the catch.
At the point that Cruz completed the catch, he became a runner (a runner is an offensive player who is in possession of a live ball).
When Cruz, acting as a runner, extended the ball over the goal line, it was a touchdown at the instant the ball penetrated the plane of the goal line. Rule 11, Section 2, Article 1 (a) of the NFL Rule Book (page 61) states that a touchdown is scored when the ball is on, above, or behind the plane of the opponents’ goal line and is in possession of a runner who has advanced from the field of play.
When Cruz lost control of the ball, he was no longer attempting to catch a pass. He had already completed the catch and was a runner attempting to score a touchdown by extending the ball across the goal line.
If the same situation occurred in the middle of the field, and a receiver who had become a runner lost possession of the ball as he reached forward for a first down, it would be a fumble.
Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3 of the NFL Rule Book (page 43) is listed below.
Article 3 Completed or Intercepted Pass. A player who makes a catch may advance the ball. A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:
(a) secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
(b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
(c) maintains control of the ball long enough, after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, to enable him to perform any act common to the game (i.e., maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.).
Note 1: It is not necessary that he commit such an act, provided that he maintains control of the ball long enough to do so.
Note 2: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.
If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any part of his body other than his hands to the ground, or if there is any doubt that the acts were simultaneous, it is not a catch.
Item 1: Player Going to the Ground. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching
the ground, the pass is complete.
Item 2: Sideline Catches. If a player goes to the ground out-of-bounds (with or without contact by an
opponent) in the process of making a catch at the sideline, he must maintain complete and continuous
control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, or the pass is incomplete.
Item 3: End Zone Catches. If a player controls the ball while in the end zone, both feet, or any part of his body other than his hands, must be completely on the ground before losing control, or the pass is incomplete.
Note: Language in red is new language appearing in the 2011 Rule Book.