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A Backward Pass at Manning’s Record

Why the NFL must give the single-season passing record back to Drew Brees ... plus responding to readers’ questions. Yes, Browns fans, you can have hope

The NFL has an interesting statistical dilemma on its hands on the final day of 2013. Should Peyton Manning own the single-season record for passing yards? We call this column “On Further Review,” and that’s exactly what I did on Tuesday morning to see whether Manning should have the record.

Late in the first quarter of Denver’s final regular-season game against Oakland on Sunday, Manning threw a seven-yard pass to Eric Decker, who was lined up tight in the left slot and caught a quick bubble screen. The statisticians working the game ruled it a forward pass. And so when Manning reached halftime with a 31-0 lead, the Broncos thought he had 266 passing yards—good for 5,477 on the season, one more than Drew Brees had in 2011. With such a commanding lead and the desire to get backup quarterback Brock Osweiler some game competition, coach John Fox removed Manning. On Sunday night and Monday, Manning was congratulated for breaking the record.

But legitimate questions have surfaced about that quick throw to Decker. Was it backward pass? A lateral? If so, the play should have gone down as a seven-yard run for Decker—not a seven-yard completion for Manning. If the league were to change it retroactively, Manning’s season passing yards would be reduced to 5,469. And Brees would still own the record by six yards.

I went to the video on Tuesday, calling up the Broncos-Raiders game on NFL Game Rewind, and watched the play in question eight times. It’s a close call. Manning appears to throw the ball approximately one yard backward to Decker, who catches it and runs seven yards past the line of scrimmage before being stopped.


On all plays regarding statistical questions, the NFL’s statistician, the Elias Sports Bureau, reviews the plays and recommends either a change in what the game stat men ruled, or no change at all. As of 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the play was in Elias’s hands. I spoke to a league official late Tuesday morning and there is no timetable on when, or if, a change will be made. I believe that Elias and the league should take the pass completion away and make it a run. That’s what it was; that’s the way I see it.

There are two things the NFL will have to wrestle with here:

Surely the Broncos will argue that the statisticians on site told them that Manning had 266 yards at halftime. Had Denver known Manning was short of the record, it’s very likely that Fox would have kept him in the game to get the record in the third quarter. So the team will rightfully be angry if the yardage is taken away.

There is little question that Manning would have broken the record had he played an additional series in the third quarter. Taking it away from him seems in some ways unfair.

I understand both of those points. But the fact is, records should not be manipulated based on would-haves and could-haves. Either Manning broke the record, or he didn’t. Every week, sacks are added and subtracted, and rushing and passing yards are adjusted based on mistakes made by press-box statisticians. A mistake was made here. It’s a shame in many ways, because Manning appeared to have broken the record—and he no doubt would have padded the numbers had the Broncos known that one of his passing plays would be reviewed by Elias.

But, the way I see it, I don’t believe the league can just say that Manning would have had the record anyway, so let’s just give it to him. I think the league needs to take seven yards away from Manning and hand the record back to Drew Brees.

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Now on to your email …

Browns CEO Joe Banner and owner Jimmy Haslam. (Tony Dejak/AP)

Browns GM Joe Banner and owner Jimmy Haslam. (Tony Dejak/AP)

Like many people, I have been reading your work for years. I respect your opinion, even if I don’t agree with it. You have taught me a lot about football. So now that the dust has settled and Haslam and Banner had their press conference, my question is this: Is there any hope in Cleveland? Can you give me three reasons to continue being a fan?



Yes I can.

1. Cleveland has the fourth pick in this draft and an additional first-round pick. If there’s a quarterback they really want, and they obviously need one, they should have the draft capital to acquire him.

2. The men who run this team are not unintelligent. Joe Banner might be a bit impulsive, and Mike Lombardi has made his share of mistakes in personnel evaluation. But I’ve seen scores of personnel people and club executives over the last three decades covering the NFL, and believe me, these guys deserve some benefit of the doubt. They’re not Ron Wolf and they’re not Ozzie Newsome, but they’re bright guys who are capable of building a good team. I know you’ve heard this before, but I would give them a chance.

3. If you’re a true fan of a team, there’s something that gets deep down in your soul that’s so hard to let go. I can only imagine how frustrated you are. When I was a kid, I loved the New York Giants, and the Giants never won a darn thing. This was back in the ’60s and ’70s. But I rooted for them anyway, and I looked forward to the start of every new season. I don’t root for teams anymore, but I sometimes go against my neutral policy about NFL teams in cities like Cleveland, where there has been such a long dry spell. For the sake of everybody in Northeast Ohio and around the country who love the Browns, I really hope this isn’t the debacle that it appears to be today.

Is it my imagination, or are the Seahawks and 49ers benefiting in the salary cap constraints by having non-first round rookie contract QBs playing decent to great football? That leaves them with salary cap room to hire more talent across their roster than, say, New England, Denver, and New Orleans. Do you have any thoughts on the salaries that Wilson and Kaepernick will command when their rookie contracts expire, and what effect that will have on the overall talent level of those two teams?

All the Best,

Kenneth R. Cone, CPA

Sacramento, Calif.

Great question. It isn’t just that Kaepernick and Wilson weren’t first-round picks. When the new salary structure went into effect in 2011, all rookies had their pay slashed. It’s really impossible to predict what they will make in the future, because you can’t predict how much they will win and the kind of numbers they’ll have put up by then. A couple years ago, I would have thought that Jay Cutler would be among the top three richest quarterbacks right now. But Cutler has been injured some, and he hasn’t played great, so now I really have no idea what his market value will be come March. I would just say this: If I were a team desperate for a young quarterback, I would be thrilled to have either one of those guys on my roster in the coming seasons, no matter how much it hamstrung the rest of my salary structure.

You mentioned one boneheaded play in the Bengals-Ravens game, but it was a series of downright Detroitian moves toward the end of the game that had me shaking my head. When the Bengals were up by 10, Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones both managed to get unnecessary 15-yard penalties on the same play. Then, when the Bengals were up by 10 with 7 minutes left—with 1st-and-goal at the 1—they threw an interception. Why not three runs to chew up clock, followed by a field goal if the need arises? And not to be outdone, on fourth down Joe Flacco threw one up for grabs at the Cincy 15, which Dre Kirpatrick promptly intercepted for a net -35 yard play and then celebrated as if he had won the Super Bowl. Isn’t this indicative of an undisciplined team and cause for pause in the playoffs?

— Reed

Columbus, Ohio

First of all, it was revealed on Monday that Dalton audibled to the play that resulted in the interception. I was critical of Jay Gruden in my column on Monday, but assuming the audible part of that play is true, then it’s all on Dalton. In general, toughness and discipline have been worries for the Bengals in recent years, and it’s something that every Bengals fan should be concerned about heading into the playoffs.

I really enjoyed Peter King’s series on referees. There was one thing I didn’t see addressed in the articles, however, and I was wondering if it was asked: Why aren’t the refs employed full-time by the league? After all, it seems only logical that the quality of the refereeing, especially with regard to knowing all the rules (see Chargers-Chiefs field goal screwup ) would be improved if refs were not distracted by one or sometimes two other jobs. Is there some reason they don’t employ these guys full-time, or is it just that the NFL feels that the costs outweigh the benefits?

— Andy

That’s a good question. All but one of the officials on the crew felt that officials are nearly full-time anyway, seeing that they spend approximately 40 hours a week doing the prep work and meetings and film study for the job. I have a very strong opinion on this. I don’t think full-time officials would help much at all in trying to limit the number of mistakes NFL officials make. Most of the truly difficult calls in the NFL stem from big hits and physical contact that is so bang-bang that you really can’t tell what the exact call should be unless you watch it in slow motion. The only way to get experience in making calls like that is to make more plays like that. By going to a team practice everyday, for instance, what good would that do? Teams don’t practice at full-speed. Teams don’t have full contact during practice. I think the way to improve officiating is to continue to drill officials so that they don’t make the kind of bonehead mistakes we saw in the San Diego-Kansas City game. And if they do, I think officials should be suspended. That would drive the point home better than anything else.

While I agree with your praise of Mike McCarthy for holding the Packers together during Aaron Rodgers’ absence, I believe that your Coach of the Week would have been the Goat of the Week if Green Bay had failed to complete the fourth-down pass from Rodgers to Cobb and lost by one point. McCarthy’s decision to kick the extra point with about 11 minutes left, rather than go for a tying two-point conversion, was mind-boggling. It’s all a moo point now (as Joey Tribiani would say), but I just don’t understand the rationale behind McCarthy’s decision. At that point in the game there was very little difference in trailing by one or two points, so the potential reward of the two-point try far outweighed the minimal risk of going for it. The only scenario in which it makes sense is if Green Bay fails to convert the two-point try and Chicago follows with a drive for a touchdown; then, the kick keeps it an eight-point spread and a one-possession game. However, using that logic shows that McCarthy didn’t have confidence in his offense to convert or in his defense to stop the Bears. I wonder what the reaction of the players would have been if the Packers had lost by one. Peter, what did you think of McCarthy’s decision?

— Dan

Ankeny, Iowa

I agree with you. My naming of McCarthy as Coach of the Week was more of a seasonal award for not letting the Packers fall to pieces with 17 guys on IR and his All-Pro quarterback missing half the season. You are right, he should have gone for two, and I should have pointed that out.