By Rich Tandler
Was a hit on Peyton Manning delivered by Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels of the Redskins the beginning of the end of Manning’s time as an Indianapolis Colt?
Tony Dungy thinks it might have been.
And was that hit inspired by a bounty program established and run by then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams?
We don’t know.
The hit came in an October 2006 game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Carter hit Manning low and then Daniels got him high, tearing the quarterback’s helmet off in the process. No flag was thrown, although Daniels did get fined $5,000 for the hit.
"The guy wouldn't let go of my helmet," Manning said after the game. "I looked into my helmet to see if my head was in there."
His head was still attached to his shoulders but maybe things weren’t quite right. He finished the game just fine as he threw for 342 yards passing with four touchdowns and the Colts went on to win the Super Bowl. But Dungy said that they had to cut back on his throws in practice. “I'm not putting two plus two together. I just figure he's getting older and he needs some time off, he's made enough throws,” Dungy said during a Sunday night football preview on Sept. 11 of last year after Manning missed a game for the fist time in his career.
“But now, as I look back on it, there's no doubt in my mind that this was the start of his neck problems.”
Certainly the hit on Manning was rough and Dungy’s theory connecting the 2006 hit to Manning’s neck problems seems plausible. But it seems to be a leap to connect the dots to making Williams’ 2006 bounty system responsible for Manning missing the 2011 season.
The hit was not anything that you don’t see almost every Sunday around the NFL. Carter and Daniels were both on contracts that paid them millions of dollars a year to sack the quarterback. It’s a little bit of a stretch to suggest that a few hundred bucks or even a few thousand would push either player to intentionally injure another player.
That doesn’t mean that bounties are an acceptable practice. But saying that Williams’ bounties led to Manning missing the 2011 season and being in jeopardy of getting cut by the Colts is a classic case of assuming a causal relationship. There were bounties for hits. A hit hurt Manning. Therefore the bounties hurt Manning. That might raise suspicion but it’s hardly proof.
That won’t prevent some from adding up two and two and getting five.