Ball has not caught a pass since Sept. 15, but he has been preparing for this moment, studying and envisioning the out route, not wanting to let Manning down when his number is called. At the snap, Ball lunges upfield, expecting to be jammed by linebacker Justin Houston and to break outside when Houston turns his shoulders, just as he and Manning practiced. But Houston blitzes. Ball, uncovered, thinks, Oh man, this thing is coming to me.
Manning already knows where he's going. Fading to his right, he lofts a pass before Ball cuts, and the ball lands softly in the back's hands. Ball turns upfield for six yards before he's knocked out of bounds. After the catch, Manning is already at the line, calling the next play. Ball jogs back to his quarterback, relieved, having executed a simple out route that's so much harder than anyone will ever know.