Dalton's fumble: Should it have been overturned?

Dalton's fumble: Should it have been overturned?
January 6, 2014, 11:45 am
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Andy Dalton, the Red Regurgitator, is the reason the Bengals will watch the rest of the playoffs.
 
But that fumble, man, it highlights officiating inconsistency.
 
There are two “rules” we all know as longtime observers of the game. The ground can’t cause a fumble. Quarterbacks who don’t slide feet first can be contacted.
 
So when Dalton slid headfirst -- clearly giving himself up on his second-half scramble -- and the ball popped loose upon his hitting the turf, the football planet assumed fumble.
 
But stuck in my mind as the review took place was a play from the Patriots preseason when Lions fullback Montell Owens took a handoff, hit the ground untouched before getting to the line of scrimmage and released the ball.
 
He didn’t slide feet first (he had actually blown a knee) and nobody touched him before he let go of the ball. The Patriots recovered. But the recovery was overturned by referee Scott Green’s crew because Owens “gave himself up due to injury” according to the official NFL gamebook.
 
Well, Dalton didn’t give himself up due to injury, that was clear. So there’s the difference, right?
 
Except Victor Cruz didn’t give himself up due to injury in a 2011 game against the Cardinals. He just went to the ground head-first and then released the ball. The Cardinals recovered. But the ball was returned to the Giants when referee Jerome Boger ruled Cruz had given himself up.
 
Here was the NFL’s statement on the Cruz fumble:
 
In Sunday’s game between the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals, the Giants faced a 1st-and-10 from the Arizona 48 with 3:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Eli Manning connected with wide receiver Victor Cruz for a 19-yard gain.

Referee Jerome Boger announced the following: 'The ruling on the previous play was that the receiver gave himself up by going to the ground. That cannot be challenged. So there is no challenge allowed by Arizona. It is first down, New York.'

The applicable rule in the 2011 NFL Rule Book is found on page 35.

Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1 states that 'An official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended: (e): when a runner is out of bounds, or declares himself down by falling to the ground, or kneeling, and making no effort to advance.'
 
I can see the difference between Dalton’s fumble and Cruz’s. Cruz maintained possession through the ground and was getting up. Dalton had it pop loose on impact.
 
But this is the kind of thing that is maddening. Players are allowed to give themselves up head-first as Dalton did, but it was a judgment call by Jeff Triplette, the referee in Cincinnati, as to whether or not he wanted to give the Bengals the ball. It seems he could have returned the ball to the Bengals, as Boger did to the Giants, and been covered by the rule.
 
And a play that everyone in the country knew was a fumble wouldn’t have been a fumble.