INDIANAPOLIS -- How could the Indianapolis Colts embarrass themselves more fully than they’d done in their past four losses to the Patriots?
They found a way with a play that will live in infamy.
It wasn’t just that the Colts didn’t know how to line up for their fake punt. Or that the coaching staff didn’t adequately prep the guy snapping the ball -- Griff Whalen -- as to whether they wanted him to snap it or not. Or that they were trying to outsmart the most well-prepared team in the NFL. Or that they apparently didn’t speak to the officials and check if their alignment was even legal.
The most appalling aspect of the play was that -- through 43 minutes and 46 seconds of play -- the Colts players had done everything they could to make a game of it against the Patriots. They were DOING IT! They were REALLY DOING IT!!
The score was 27-21 New England, and a field-position war had raged through the third quarter. Punting from their own 37, the Colts were probably going to put the Patriots inside their 20, maybe close to the 10.
And then Chuck Pagano decided to play “smarter than thou” with the Patriots; a team which really is smarter than thou.
What was the motivation? Give the Patriots a taste of their own medicine? Make them look silly? Take backslaps from fellow coaching staffs around the league who would have reveled in seeing the Patriots get theirs?
Instead, the whole thing blew up in Indy’s face. Whalen snapped the ball to “quarterback” Colts Anderson with Patriot Jon Bostic positioned over center and Brandon Bolden just off the ball to Bostic’s left. When Whalen snapped the ball, there was a pause. Like he just realized he mistakenly pulled the pin on a live grenade. Which he pretty much had. Anderson seemed stunned. Then he was flattened.
Whalen blew up the game. But he was only following what he thought were his orders.
I pray nobody spends Monday framing Pagano’s “it’s all on me” routine as somehow being a noble approach. Because it’s exactly what he should say. And he should have added a public apology to it as well. If Whalen did something he wasn’t supposed to do, it’s because there was enough ambiguity in the instructions given to him to allow him to misinterpret the plan. Pagano and his staff didn’t put the players in a position to execute the play. And -- given the game situation -- it was wholly unnecessary to even call for the play. Not then. Not when the Colts were still very much in it and the only upside would be first-and-10 near your own 40 with 60 yards still to go to take the lead (and the downside being that the Patriots would take possession about five yards from field-goal range with a chance to make it a nine-point game if they barely gained a yard.
Pagano’s explanation after the game was this: “The whole idea there was on a fourth-and-3 or less, shift the alignment to where you either catch them misaligned, they try to sub people in, catch them with more men on the field, 12 men on the field and if you get a certain look you got three yards, two yards and you can make a play. I didn’t do a good enough job of coaching it during the week. Alignment-wise we weren’t lined up correctly and then [there was] a communication breakdown between the quarterback and the snapper and that’s all on me. I didn’t do a good enough job in getting that communicated to the guys. It obviously played a huge factor in this loss, given the field position and the touchdown that resulted from that.”
Whalen was left to try and dissemble the details for a mass of media at his locker.
“There’s a couple options there,” he said. “We can try and draw ‘em offsides or snap it, run a fake. It’s not really up to me (to decide whether to snap the ball), [Anderson] has a couple of decisions to make. We’ll take a look at the film tomorrow and get it figured out. It’s just a miscommunication between us and the coaches and everything. I’m just not sure if we got exactly the look we thought we would. We’ll take a look at it tomorrow and get it figured out. There were different options. I think we all could have done a better job getting on the same page. It’s between the special-teams coach and the head coach and the guys out there. It’s obviously not the way we should have done it.”
The Patriots couldn’t sneer at the Colts during the week leading up to the game, but they had a hard time not showing that they took great satisfaction in the fact the Colts blew the game with a stupid, preventable, arrogant idea.
“I’m glad they did it,” said Julian Edelman. “We got the ball back in great field position so we were alert, our guys went to where they were supposed to go. So shame on them.”
Asked if he was surprised the Colts tried to outsmart them, Edelman said, “You’re not surprised with anything with how they play. They tried to onsides kick, they did (fake punt) and, umm . . . Colts.”
It’s one thing to be beaten badly. It’s an altogether greater indignity that a team you would like to consider your rival looks at a blunder like that as par for the course. Ummm . . . Colts. Maybe the quote of the year.
Former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson used to say that all but about 10 teams eliminate themselves from Super Bowl contention before the season even begins because they're stupid. There’s probably fewer than 10 these days. And Indy certainly qualifies as one of the brain dead.
From their addled and amateurish owner to their insecure, self-important GM to their overmatched head coach, the Colts are rotten from the top down.
All week long, Patriots fans had their black hearts longing for a monumental beatdown in Indy. Instead, the Colts provided the hated, vile Twitter tormentors back East with something better.
A blunder that was equal parts amusing, arrogant and desperate. A decision that announced how far the Colts coaching staff thinks it is from being able to go toe-to-toe with the Patriots. A play that was so poorly installed that only a staff trying to make a statement of some sort would attempt to run.
The Colts will win some more games. The Colts may make the playoffs. But this was dysfunction writ large in prime time.
Ummm . . . Colts.