The Morning After: Don’t count out No. 18

Of all the memorable moments that Week 16 served up on the menu for The Morning Afternoon After … Mike Singletary’s sideline argument with another quarterback, Tom Brady’s interception-less brilliance and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s epic beard … that canny slide by Peyton Manning can’t be ignored.

It should have served as a subtle reminder to never count out No. 18.

Manning may have slid out of MVP consideration behind Tom Terrific and Michael Vick, but as Brian Baldinger pointed out last week, his brilliance has been on display in other ways during a season that hasn’t been exactly typical for the Colts or their quarterback.

Leading 31-26 with 1:39 remaining against the Raiders, Manning took off (sort of) on a naked bootleg, the perfect call. He … um, rumbled … 27 yards before realizing he would be caught from behind by Matt Shaughnessy, and then did what only the most aware of players would do. He slid.

Manning then took a knee on the next two plays in the beloved victory formation.

It didn’t win the game, but The Slide is a microcosm of Manning’s preparation and awareness of situational football. None of it — the call at the line of scrimmage, selling the handoff or his slide — was by accident. In fact, Manning said after the game he called his own number and told no one, so that his teammates would carry out what they thought was the play call.

“My dad (Archie) always told me that’s the best way to do it,” Manning told the Indy Star. “I didn’t decide until … the last minute.”

Collectively, we bag on players and coaches every week for not knowing the current game situation, so kudos to Manning.

Here’s the best part: If you watch closely, you can see Manning can’t help but grin as he looks up at the scoreboard for the replay.

Smart. Even amusing. And typical Manning. Although, clearly he didn’t have himself on his fantasy football team. But it’s only fitting he sealed the win in atypical fashion, putting the Colts on the doorstep of a seventh AFC title in the past eight seasons and tying the NFL record with a ninth consecutive postseason appearance.

Again, typical the Colts are right there in December.

If the Colts reach the playoffs, it’s hard to bet against Manning. Echoing an earlier thought by Warren Sapp, opposing players check the “I don’t want to see him” box next to Manning’s name when it comes to the playoffs.

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