Peyton Manning, the legendary quarterback and product spokesman, doesn't do Geico commercials. However, if he did, one might be of him in game action, getting blitzed by a very fast defensive back and sliding to the turf to avoid serious injury.
What would the tag say at the end of the commercial? Maybe, "When you're NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and you're being blitz, you slide to give yourself up. It's what you do."
Early in the fourth quarter of what ultimately turned out to be a pretty depressing 23-16 loss by Pittsburgh to Manning and the rest of the Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round this past Sunday, the future Hall of Fame passer was blitzed by safety Will Allen, who just missed Manning after beating the man trying to block him. Manning may have managed to avoid contact, but he also decided to slide knees first onto the turf of Sport Authority Field. The split-second Manning, 39 and never an accurate imitation of John Elway on his best 20something day, slid, you, me, the rest of the American people watching at home and in the stands, along with cornerback William Gay thought he had given himself up in-order to avoid bodily injury. But while everyone else in the universe stopped, Manning got up and found former Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders (the man Gay was covering before Slide-gate) open at the Denver 35; Sanders then proceeded to catch the football and race another 19 yards before being pushed out at the Pittsburgh 46 for a 34-yard gain. Manning tried to race his offense up to the line of scrimmage and get another play off before Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin could issue a challenge. However, since Tomlin has always been challenge-capable, a red flag came out onto the field, and play was whistled dead. Unfortunately, since whether or not a quarterback slides in-order to give himself up is a judgement call, the play couldn't be reviewed, and the huge gain was allowed to stand.
It is true that the Broncos were soon forced to punt from the 50, and Pittsburgh's offense would eventually drive into Denver territory before Fitzgerald Toussaint fumbled at the 35 with the team up, 13-12. However, had Manning been ruled down due to giving himself up, the Broncos would have faced a second and 16 from their own 14-yard line, and who knows?
Despite Markus Wheaton's best efforts to muff the punt back to the Broncos, Pittsburgh had the football at the 25, following Ross Cockrell's recovery of the muff in the end zone and Denver being called for illegal motion. But in a game where field-position was at a premium (at least for Pittsburgh, whose average start was its own 20), only the football gods know what may have happened had the Broncos been forced to punt approximately 40 yards further back than they eventually did after Manning's slide and completion.
I was originally going to title this piece, "The NFL has too many bleepin' rules III" (I've written two other articles about the confusing rules), but unlike rules involving formations (Chargers/Chiefs Week 17 of the 2013 season) or excessive celebration (every Will Gay pick-six since he decided to include dancing), there really is no confusion these days involving a quarterback giving himself up. Defenders have spent years learning to restrain themselves from torpedoing head or shoulder-first into a quarterback when he decides to take a baseball-like slide to the turf as a means to inform everyone around him that he doesn't want to be touched--even so much as a love-tap often causes your typical quarterback to jump up and scream for a flag these days.
Now, after many years of training defenders to pull up upon seeing a leg-first sliding signal-caller, the officials decide to keep their whistles silent in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, when the most obvious example of a quarterback who would not put up much of a scrambling fight, slides to the turf after nearly being sacked?
The problem with the slide rule is it's a judgement call. The NFL has taken an official's interpretation out of so many things. For example, if a receiver catches a pass but is pushed out of bounds before he can get both feet down, that's no longer a legal reception. Also, if a receiver catches a pass, gets knocked to the turf, rolls three times and then loses the football, that's no longer considered a reception, even if your eyes tell you that it probably should be.
With safety being such an important part of today's NFL, and defenders often confused about when and where they can hit an offensive player who is carrying a football, how can you make something as obvious as a quarterback leg-first slide a judgement call?
Oh well, to reiterate, there's no telling what may have happened on Sunday had it been ruled that Manning did indeed give himself up on the play in question--although, the ultimate outcome couldn't have been any worse for Pittsburgh.
We'll never know because, again, the NFL has too many bleepin' rules, and even when those rules appear to be followed by everyone, a 34-yard post-slide pass is allowed to stand--even when it's thrown by a 39-year old quarterback just coming back from a torn plantar fascia.