The Indianapolis Colts’ failed “swinging gate” play was one of the goofier and funnier moments in recent memory. But punter Pat McAfee has gone into more detail on what was supposed to happen—and what went horribly wrong—and the intent behind the play makes a little more sense. The execution, however, was even more disastrous than it looked, and that’s all on Chuck Pagano.
A refresher, in case you live in a cave where they don’t get blooper reels: on fourth and three, nearly the entire Colts offense sprinted to the extreme right of the field, with just WR Griff Whalen crouched over the ball and safety Colt Anderson ready to take the snap. It went poorly.
Anderson received a snap he looked unprepared for, and got mauled by a mass of Patriots who hadn’t fallen for the shenanigans. Turnover on downs, and the Patriots promptly scored.
The original intent of the play, McAfee said on the radio this morning, was to trick the Patriots into thinking the Colts’ punt unit was coming off the field for a regular attempt to go for it on fourth. The idea was to confuse the Patriots into taking their punt return unit off the field and send their regulars back in, and catch them with too many men on the field.
“The point of the play is a deception play. So, you’re trying to manipulate the (receiving team) into thinking they have to sub their defense back on,” said McAfee. “We are sprinting to the sideline in hopes to make the other team think we are subbing our offense back onto the field. So, when they think the offense is coming back on the field, your hope is that they think their defense has to come back on the field.”
If you watch the video above, the Colts offense is close to the sideline at the bottom of the screen, helmets on, looking for all the world like they were going to run on when the punt unit got off.
You can see how this could work in theory. In a look at some recent attempts at similar trickery, the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin highlighted a Patriots “fire drill” from last season. The punt unit sprinted off as the offense hustled back in, hopefully catching Denver off guard. Look at the chaos:
The play didn’t work—Denver reacted in time, and the Patriots were flagged for a false start anyway—but you can see how it might.
On Sunday, the Patriots didn’t take the Colts’ bait at all. The punt unit remained on the field. Which was when the Colts were supposed to go to Option No. 2, and when things got really screwy.
Option No. 2, if they couldn’t catch New England with too many defenders, was for the Colts to try to draw the Patriots offside. Only problem is, center Griff Whalen didn’t know about that part of the plan. He was never supposed to be in on the swinging gate—that was safety Clayton Geathers, who had gotten injured earlier in the game. Whalen had practiced a version of this play last season, but didn’t know about the contingency plan if the defense didn’t bite.
“Last week (in practice), Griff is at the other end catching my punts. We added something to try and draw them offsides if they don’t do their substitution,” said McAfee. “Griff never got the heads up this was happening, because it’s not in the playbook. Stanford guy, reads the playbook, knows everything he has to do, but if he’s not there for an audible that’s added, he can’t know.”
In this backup scenario, if the Patriots didn’t jump—they didn’t—Indianapolis was just supposed to take the delay-of-game penalty. But again, Whalen didn’t know that. According to Patriots RB Brandon Bolden, who ended up making the tackle, Colt Anderson was apparently trying to get the message across.
So to recap: Indianapolis ran a trick play that didn’t trick anyone and was reliant on a player who wasn’t supposed to be there and didn’t know what he was supposed to do, and the entire offensive lined up in an illegal formation anyway so it wouldn’t have counted even if it worked. Chuck Pagano “doesn’t regret the play call at all.”