Denver’s come-from-behind win over the Steelers included a play that has become a late-career staple for quarterback Peyton Manning, with a twist.
Manning, whose strategy for avoiding a possible injury-inducing hit consists of diving to the ground when under pressure, took a dive in the fourth quarter. Untouched either on the way down or after he landed, Manning then got up and threw the ball to receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a 34-yard gain, taking the ball from the Denver 20 to the Pittsburgh 46.
It was the biggest gain of the day in the passing game, matching the biggest gain of the day on the ground. And even though the effort didn’t result in points, it helped alter field position en route to the short field the Broncos got after Fitzgerald Toussaint’s fumble on the next drive.
Still, after the game Peyton wasn’t thumping his chest for thumping the ground.
“I’ll have to take a look at that play,” he told reporters after the game. “I’d like to get in there early in the morning and then I can get it deleted off the game film. I don’t know because those video guys get there pretty quick. I think it was probably our longest pass play of the game. We’ll take it.”
Asked later whether he realized that he hadn’t been touched on his way to the ground, Manning made an interesting (and reluctant) confession.
“I don’t really want to analyze this play too much,” he said. “I’d kind of like it to go away, if it could. I was stepping up. When you fake that way and kind of get your head around, I felt that guy closing, so I stepped up and kind of leaned forward. My momentum kind of just took me down, I guess. I didn’t think that he had touched me. I told Emmanuel just to kind of be alert in case I fall down, get back up to be uncovered.”
Manning didn’t lean forward and fall due to momentum. He took a dive to avoid being hit. He’s done it before, and against a Steelers defense that has plenty of guys who could inflict significant damage on a body that, with a win, would have to be ready to go again, he intended to do it again. Indeed, Manning admits he told Sanders to be ready for the possibility that Manning would take a dive without being touched, allowing him to get up again and throw it.
More than 20 years ago, Jim Everett was called “Chris” by Jim Rome for taking dives in lieu of taking hits. Manning, despite the fact that he seems to be ashamed by the play, has never gotten criticized for opting to preserve his body.
That said, the officials blew it by not concluding Manning had given himself up, and to Peyton’s credit he anticipated the possibility that they would.
So maybe he’s not ashamed of this one because he preserved his soon-to-be-40-year-old body. Maybe he’s ashamed because he got away with a cheap one — and because he apparently planned it.