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LOPRESTI: Inside the special teams play that made no sense

October 19, 2015
It was the boner heard round the NFL world. Pagano’s Folly. And the question Monday morning is the same one as Sunday night.
     
What was that?
     
If only we knew.
      
If only we knew what Chuck Pagano was doing late in third quarter, with the Colts down only 27-21, in a valiant effort against the New England Princes of Darkness.  If only we knew what he had in mind on 4th and 3 at his own 37, lining up 9/11ths of the punt team on the right side of the field, in a diversionary tactic that diverted nobody.
   
The formation left Griff Whalen and Colt Anderson at the hash marks with the football. Two men on an island, surrounded, alas, by Patriots.         We’ll pause to let punter Pat McAfee sum up what happened next.

"It turned out to be one of the most failed fakes, probably, of all time."

That opinion is ratified, by unanimous vote.
   
It was supposed to fool the Patriots, except the Patriots weren’t fooled, and instead of aborting the mission, as any sane team would, the Colts did otherwise. Whalen snapped the ball, and Anderson—seemingly as shocked as he would be had a snake just plopped into his hands—hesitated, and then was swarmed by what seemed to be about 15 Patriots. The play lost a yard, not that it mattered, because Indianapolis was illegally lined up, anyway. For a deadly second there, they became the Keystone Colts. And pretty soon Tom Brady threw another touchdown pass, and the fatal moment had come and gone in a 34-27 Indianapolis loss.

McAfee again: ``It was just a complete cluster.’’ No wonder he does radio.

Well, it wasn’t yet another New England rout, anyway. But then, Andrew Luck, back in the lineup, was asked if he was interested in moral victories.

``No.’’

But the question remains. Two, actually. What happened? And why?

Are the Patriots so embedded in the Colts head that trickery is now believed to be the only way to stop them? Was that the reason for the onside kick in the second quarter? Was that the reason for . . . well, whatever it was on that punt?

``We didn’t want to leave any bullets in the gun.’’ Pagano said.

OK, fair enough. A guy has to try something when a team has lost six in a row—no, make that seven—to an opponent.

But still. Could anyone in the Colts locker room explain that play?
 
Start with Pagano.
  
``The whole idea there was to shift to an alignment to where you either catch them misaligned, or they try to sub some people in, try to catch them with  . . . 12 men on the field. If you get a certain look, you can make a play.’’

Except the Colts didn’t. The Patriots were legal with 11 men,and they were in place to stop the play. The ball was snapped, anyway. Damn all those defenders in white uniforms, full fake ahead.

Now McAfee. ``We started working on that play last year and then we put it back in this week. ... The look was not there that we normally have in practice when it’s a go. There must have been some miscommunication.’’
  
Gee, think how bad it would have been had they not been working on it for a year. Also, remember that word, miscommunication. Over to Anderson, the snappee.

``It was just a miscommunication, guys. That’s all it was. I’ve got to do a better job of making sure we do the right thing.’’

Back to Pagano. Guess what he called it? ``A communication breakdown between the quarterback (who is really a safety) and the snapper (who is really a wide receiver). And that’s all on me. I take full responsibility on that, and I didn’t do a good enough job of getting that communicated to the guys. ... It’s not on those players.’’

Finally, Whalen, an hour after the fact, in a near-empty Colts locker room.

``There’s a couple of options there, so we can try and draw them offsides or snap it and run a fake.’’

So it’s the snapper’s call to run the play?

``It’s not really up to me. Colt has a couple of decisions to make. We’ll take a look at it, the film tomorrow, and get it figured out. It was just a miscommunication between us and the coaches.’’
  
That M-word again. ``Yeah, I’m not sure if we got exactly the look we thought we would.’’
 
Fair to say it was a surprise to Anderson that the ball was snapped?

``I don’t know. Like I said, there was some miscommunication. I think we all should have done a better job of being on the same page.’’
 
So who makes the decision to snap the ball?
 
``It’s between the special teams coach and the head coach and the guys out there. I’m not sure exactly. Obviously, that probably wasn’t how we should have done it.’’

Now what could be clearer than that? A fake punt with a snap called by nobody-would-say-for-sure. And we thought the New England ball air pressure was a mystery.

If only it had worked. But it didn’t have the chance of a snowball in Bill Belichick’s microwave.

Actually, for clarity, we turn to Dwayne Allen. One more time, what was supposed to happen on that play?

``Not a snap.’’

So now the Colts are 3-3, and the brutal portion of the schedule continues. If this season slips away, one play will be used as the signature moment
 
Unless, of course, another play comes along even worse. That’s possible. But not probable.
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