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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