The Pittsburgh Steelers kept their season alive with a 24-17 "Sunday Night Football" win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and they gained a little bit of late-game help from the Imaginary Injury Fairy. Or, so it would seem.
The incident in question occurred with 6:04 left in the game, and the Steelers at the Cincinnati 36-yard line. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked for a loss of 1 yard by Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, and Roethlisberger appeared to be a bit worse for wear as he got up from the ground. Because Big Ben wasn't as quick to the huddle as usual, the Steelers were in danger of either losing 5 yards on a delay of game penalty, or having to burn one of their timeouts.
That's when receiver Emmanuel Sanders stepped in -- or, more accurately, that's when Sanders fell down. Those in NBC's booth were unimpressed with Sanders' performance. Cris Collinsworth called it "an injury ... of sorts," Al Michaels sounded skeptical right off the bat, and Collinsworth followed with, "All I know is, Emmanuel Sanders was in the huddle, he's not looking like he's in too much pain now, and then, 'Oh, boy -- here comes the cramp!' He goes down, and they don't have to burn the timeout.
"That is a savvy play, let's call it that, on the part of the Pittsburgh Steelers."
Miraculously, Sanders was able to come back in the game after missing just one play. He even gave a gratuitous leg stretch for those who weren't quite buying it. Boy, those NFL doctors are really something these days!
Of course, as Michaels pointed out, the Steelers might wonder how savvy it is when the league office reviews the tape. It would behoove Mike Tomlin's team to know that especially in a nationally televised game, the cameras are everywhere. And it wasn't as if the Steelers benefited from the exercise -- Mike Wallace dropped a short pass on the play in which Sanders was "out," and Roethlisberger punted on the fourth-and-11 play where Sanders was back in.
Well, you know how it is -- all hands on special teams.
You may remember a similar ploy in September of 2011, when the New York Giants managed to delay the St. Louis Rams' no-huddle offense with mysterious injuries to defenders Deon Grant and Jacquain Williams. One second, Grant and Williams were up, and the next, they went down as if shot by imaginary enemies.
"They couldn't get subbed, they couldn't line up," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "Someone said, 'Someone go down, someone go down,' so someone just went down and grabbed a cramp."
Players don't generally seem to think the act of faking injuries is a big deal, unless their team is affected in a game.
"It's always been in the game," Baltimore Ravens Ed Reed told the Associated Press last year. "It's all tactical stuff you need to use. Whatever it takes ... If you're tired, you're tired. You get a break however you can."
After the Giants pulled that little stunt, the NFL distributed a memo to all 32 teams after that game that said, in part:
"Going forward, be advised that should the league office determine that there is reasonable cause, all those suspected of being involved in faking injuries will be summoned promptly to this office ... to discuss the matter. Those found to be violators will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action for conduct detrimental to the game.
"We have been fortunate that teams and players have consistently complied with the spirit of the rule over the years and this has not been an issue for the NFL. We are determined to take all necessary steps to ensure that it does not become an issue."
Interestingly enough, Steelers safety Ryan Clark seemed most aggrieved by the NFL's stance on the issue.
"It is just another situation where people in power can judge what you do on the field, but now they can judge what is inside of your character," Clark said at the time. "How can they judge how your body is feeling? How do you know I'm not hurt?"
Well, that's the problem. We'll see just how seriously the NFL takes that idea when and if it's addressed with the Steelers organization. Perhaps the league should consult Al Czervik in a case like this.