During Sunday’s Raiders-Broncos game, an Oakland pass along the sideline was ruled a completion, but Denver thought the receiver failed to get both feet inbounds. The Broncos wanted to have time to check the replay and throw the challenge flag as the Raiders were lining up to run the next play, so Broncos linebacker Von Miller did the one thing a player can always do to get the officials to halt the game: He said he was injured.
Specifically, Miller flopped onto the ground, holding his leg. It was a bad acting job that Dan Fouts, calling the game on CBS, immediately called out as a fake injury. But it had its desired effect: The officials stopped the game for Miller’s “injury,” and the Broncos successfully challenged the play.
Some people laugh that stuff off as gamesmanship, but the fact is that it’s cheating. And it’s a particularly insidious kind of cheating because it exploits the NFL’s player safety rules, which say that a game must be stopped when a player is hurt.
What can the NFL do about it? For starters, it can fine both Miller and the Broncos. The league has taken that step once before, when the Steelers were fined $35,000 and Emmanuel Sanders was fined $15,000 in 2012 because Sanders pretended to be hurt to give the Steelers’ offense time to change a play without a delay of game penalty. Those fines are a good first step toward cracking down on fake injuries, but they’re insufficient. That’s just not enough money to discourage an NFL team or player from faking an injury. Steeper fines and the loss of draft picks would go a long way toward sending the message that fake injuries won’t be tolerated.
The NFL could also change the rules on how injured players are handled. Currently, the rule is that if the clock stops to give a player medical attention on the field, that player must sit out one play. A rule requiring the player to sit out the rest of that possession would make players a lot less likely to fake an injury, and would have the added benefit of ensuring that team medical personnel have enough time to diagnose and treat injured players on the sideline.
What the NFL can’t do is have referees throw penalty flags on injury fakers. There’s just no way for a ref to know for sure, in the heat of the moment, that a player is faking. A 15-yard penalty would be the easiest way to stop fake injuries, but that’s just not going to happen.
So what the NFL will have to start doing is handling fake injuries through the league’s disciplinary process. The Broncos and Miller should be hearing from the league this week.
Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:
Calvin Johnson is the NFL’s most expensive decoy. The Lions are paying Megatron $20 million a year, by far the most that any NFL receiver gets paid. And yet they’re barely using him in their offense: Yesterday he caught one pass. There’s simply no excuse for allocating that much cap space to a player you don’t even use. The new G.M. in Detroit next year will have a tough decision to make about whether the Lions can continue to justify Johnson’s enormous contract.
The Colts are terrible, and could still make the playoffs. The Colts have lost their last two games by a combined score of 96-26. Yesterday they were obliterated, 51-16, by a bad Jaguars team. And yet it’s still entirely possible that Indianapolis will win the AFC South. This is an absolutely awful division.
Todd Gurley remains incredible. Gurley had 16 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns in yesterday’s win over the Lions, and his 49-yard run was his fifth run of 40 or more yards this season, the most in the NFL. There was some talk in recent weeks that he had hit a rookie wall, but Gurley is still the best rookie in the NFL.
Marcus Mariota had one big play in defeat. Last Sunday, Mariota was brilliant. Yesterday, Mariota struggled through much of the Titans’ 30-8 loss to the Jets. But Mariota did catch a 41-yard touchdown pass on a trick play. That makes him the only player in the NFL this year who has a touchdown run, a touchdown pass and a touchdown catch.
The AFC wild card race is heating up. The Chiefs, Jets and Steelers all won yesterday to improve to 8-5, and they’re going to have a very interesting three-way race for the two AFC wild card spots. The Chiefs appear to have the best chance because their remaining three games are against three bad teams, the Ravens, Browns and Raiders. The Jets still have to play the Patriots (as well as the Cowboys and Bills), while the Steelers still have to play the Broncos (as well as the Ravens and Browns). A pretty good team is going to get left out.
An awful injury for Thomas Rawls. Rawls, the Seahawks’ undrafted rookie running back who burst out of nowhere as a replacement for and even an improvement on Marshawn Lynch, suffered a season-ending broken ankle yesterday. Rawls’s rookie season ended with 147 carries for 830 yards, a 5.65-yard average that is the second best in NFL history for a rookie running back who had at least 140 carries. Only Maurice Jones-Drew, who averaged 5.67 yards a carry as a rookie in 2006, had a higher average as a rookie.
Andy Dalton’s injury changes everything. The Bengals had a real shot at the Super Bowl and Dalton was playing at a very high level, but Dalton’s likely season-ending broken thumb is devastating for Cincinnati. It was a terrible Sunday on the injury front, both the real kind and the fake kind.