Niyo: Slay must wait for his day against Manning

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Darius Slay was hoping for an autograph.

Instead, he got a firsthand look at another signature performance from Peyton Manning.

And Slay, who has never shied away from his "Big Play" moniker, found himself on the wrong side of a few of them Sunday night in the Lions' 24-12 loss to the Denver Broncos at Ford Field.

Earlier in the week, he'd playfully suggested something that was destined to make an easy headline, saying he'd demand Manning's signature on a football if he intercepted the five-time MVP in his first-ever game against the future Hall of Famer.

"I'm letting him know now, if I get a pick from him, he's got to sign that," Slay said.

The Broncos took that for what it was. Not a taunt, but a sign of respect, as Slay himself put it, "There's not another Peyton Manning out there."

And yet there he was out there Sunday, on fourth-and-1 late at the end of the first half, surveying the Lions' pre-snap defensive look, sensing the blitz was coming, and then beating it by going deep.

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Slay seemed to sense something else initially, hesitating and taking a step in, then racing back to try to make a play on the ball as Manning, who had the play called to both sides of the field, went deep with a perfect toss down the right sideline for 6-foot-3 Demaryius Thomas.

"I guess he just saw me beat him," Thomas said. "They were squatting some in the game, so we took advantage of that on that play."

Slay leaped, but couldn't get a hand on the pass while Thomas got two, snaring it and then jogging into the end zone for the 45-yard touchdown reception with 5 seconds left before halftime. Asked if he'd thought about playing it safe and going for the tackle rather than a pass breakup on that play, Slay shook his head.

"Oh, no," he said. "I'm trying to create a turnover. He just made a big play, and just took it from me. He's an aggressive guy, big guy, strong hands. And I just didn't end up with the ball."

And the Broncos ended up with a 14-6 halftime lead, rather than, perhaps, a 10-6 lead.

A step too late

For Slay, it wasn't the last time he'd be in the middle of a swing like that.

In the fourth quarter, after the Lions' defense made another third-down stop, forcing the Broncos to try — and miss — a 53-yard field goal with 8 minutes left, a flag flew and no one could figure out why. Then came the call — illegal formation on the defense — and some sideline grimacing from head coach Jim Caldwell and special teams coordinator Joe Marciano.

A lineman was late coming off the field before the kick, and Slay was late getting to the line. And apparently on the wrong side, as the Lions had seven men lined up on the left, something the league disallowed back in 2013, banning the overloaded formation on kicks.

"I never heard of that rule, either," said Slay, who was back out there — on the right side — when Brandon McManus converted the re-kick from 48 yards. "I guess we had too many people on one side or something. I don't know."

'Same old Peyton'

He knew the next pass attempt from Manning was coming his way, and he was in position to make the play this time, leaping in front of Emmanuel Sanders as Manning went up top one more time, facing second-and-8 from the Lions' 49. Both Slay and Sanders had two hands on the ball, but when they landed, Sanders did and Slay didn't.

"Those are some tough catches," Slay said. "That's why they're All-Pro receivers. They make the tough catches look easy out there. I was in great position. I just didn't end up with the ball."

Or the win, let alone that autograph. Asked about all the talk of Manning's arm strength waning, and his winning aura fading, Slay scoffed. How did Manning look to Slay on Sunday as he went 31-for-42 for 324 yards and two touchdowns?

"Same old Peyton to me," Slay said. "Great player."

And while the Lions defense was hardly the story of this game, what with Matthew Stafford committing three more turnovers and the offense sputtering again in the devastating loss, the big plays against Slay still left a mark.

"I think he did some other things pretty well, but those plays are going to stick out," Caldwell said. "They're going to jump out at you. But if we get a little better pass rush, maybe that doesn't happen. So there's a lot of things that go into that — I'm not just going to blame him."

No, there's plenty of blame to go around with this 0-3 team. But Manning sure can humble you.