Chris Chase, USA TODAY Sports
If Emmanuel Sanders had fallen to the turf with a dubious injury in any other game on Sunday, chances are it would have gone unnoticed by cameramen, announcers and directors. But the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver tapped out with his phantom cramping on NBC's Sunday Night Football and there's not much that gets by Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.
With six minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Steelers clinging to a seven-point lead, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked for a short loss on second down. This set up a crucial 3rd and 11 from the edge of field goal ranger. Roethlisberger appeared a little woozy after the sack and was late in getting the team to the line of scrimmage. As the play clock ticked down, it became clear Pittsburgh would have to burn a timeout or take a delay of game.
And then, just when all seemed lost, Sanders miraculously developed a cramp and had to be taken off the field. The clock stopped while this happened. That ffortuitous timing meant Pittsburgh wouldn't have to waste a timeout or yards. It was essentially a free timeout.
Michaels and Collinsworth weren't fooled. They instantly cried foul and accused Sanders of faking the injury. Collinsworth was somewhat diplomatic with his accusation. "That is a savvy play, let's call it that, on the part of the Pittsburgh Steelers," he said. Michaels was less so.
Notice how Sanders can't seem to figure out which leg hurts the most when he falls to the turf.
Sanders made an amazing recovery and was back in the game for Pittsburgh's fourth-down punt. (He had to sit out one play.) As Al Michaels said, he could be hearing from the league office about his ode to Hollywood.
Last year, two New York Giants players simultaneously feigned injuries in a Monday night game, which caused the league to issue a stern memo about the practice that everyone promptly ignored.
Here's my solution to this problem: If you come out of the game with a time-stopping injury on any drive, you can't return unless there's a timeout or change of possession. This wouldn't fully solve the problem but it would be an easy-to-enforce start.
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