There are few moments in football more entertaining than a trick play, the weirder the better. One of those moments is a failed trick play. That...thing the Colts pulled last night certainly qualifies.
Up until Indy’s swinging gate fell off its hinges, they were hanging tough with the Patriots and playing better than they had all season. It was still just a six-point deficit, but with a minute and change left in the third, the Colts reached into their bag of tricks. On a fourth and three the punt unit suddenly shifted right—all save backup WR Griff Whalen crouching over the ball and safety Colt Anderson taking the snap.
Whatever was planned, things decidedly did not go that way. “It was just not good,” punter Pat McAfee said. “A complete cluster.”
If this thing wasn’t cursed from conception, its execution doomed it. The Colts took way too long and gave the Patriots way too much time to get over their surprise. (Even return man Julian Edelman had time to come back up.) New England’s defenders spread out more or less equally across the half of the field in play, so that when the snap did come, there were five Patriots to swarm the two lone Colts.
To make matters worse (funnier?), the Colts were flagged for illegal formation, as “the whole right side of the line” was not on the line of scrimmage. Even if they were, Indianapolis would have been penalized for not having an eligible receiver at both ends of the line. This is a play that, as called, had literally no chance of success. Not good for a trick that McAfee said the team had been working on as early as last year.
As the Colts came off the field, head coach Chuck Pagano asked them “why did you snap it?” and “why didn’t you call time out?” The ball was never meant to be snapped.
“The whole idea there was, on a fourth-and-3 or less, shift to an alignment where you either catch them misaligned, they try to sub some people in, catch them with 12 men on the field,” Pagano said. “If you get a certain look, 3 yards, 2 yards, you can make a play. But again, we shifted over, and I didn’t do a good enough job coaching it during the week.
“Alignment-wise, we weren’t lined up correctly and then a communication breakdown between the quarterback and snapper. That’s all on me.”
It’s not quite so absurd when you see how it was supposed to work. In a best-case scenario, the Patriots would have been so discombobulated that Anderson would have had one man to beat for the three yards. More realistically, the Patriots might have burned a timeout. In Pagano’s mind, the worst-case scenario was that the Patriots were fooled and the Colts would have just taken a delay-of-game call and punted on the next play. As it turned out, the real worst-case scenario was that everyone forgot what the hell the plan was supposed to be, snapped the ball, got sacked, turned it over, and watched New England score six plays later to make it a two-score game.
“Just miscommunication between all of us,” Whalen said afterward, understandably trying to say as little as possible.
Did the coaches tell you to snap the ball?
“That’s the part that was miscommunicated,” Whalen said.
This is on the Colts’ coaches for not practicing the swinging gate enough to make sure the players had it, and for not drilling it into their heads enough to not snap the ball if the look wasn’t there. It’s on the players for forgetting what to do and how to line up legally. And it’s ultimately on Pagano, as overseer of the whole circus and for not just calling a timeout when he saw the play was doomed. It takes a village to run a play this stupid.