The Colts had just scored to go up 3-0 with 11:13 still left to go in the first quarter of a road game against the division rival Houston Texans when they decided to utilize their not-so-secret weapon: Pat McAfee.
With a wide open field in front of him and the Texans not expecting an onside kick attempt, McAfee kicked one right up the middle. Pat himself ran straight up the field ten yards and fell on the ball, recovering his own onside kick. It was his third onside kick attempt of the year and all three have been successful. Entering Sunday, the Colts were the only team in the league to convert a single attempt, much less three (though the Jaguars converted one today). The leader in onside kicks last year recorded three all year - McAfee has three through six games. After his recovered kick, the Colts quickly put the ball in the end zone to go up 10-0. It was a huge, momentum-shifting play.
"We thought that the middle might open up because we hit a surprise onside to the right so teams are kind of fearing that," McAfee said after the game Thursday night. "We spread out our kick off team to see what they would give us. We thought the middle was going to be wide open. There was kind of a check with me to see what was going to happen. As soon as we saw it was open after the first one, we knew it had it and it was my job not to mess it up."
He certainly didn't mess it up, and he too realized the significance that play had. "I think anytime you can steal a possession whether it's a turnover, something on special teams, a fake, or for instance an onside kick, I think it really took their crowd out it of there," McAfee said. "Anytime you can get some points, come back, and steal a possession again, it's a 14-point swing because if they were going to score, or at least a seven point swing. I mean it's a big deal for us."
"When you have a quarterback or an offense that's led by Andrew Luck, you know you give him the ball at the 45 going in, or our 45, 46, we're probably going to get some points. It's huge for us, it is great momentum. I'm so happy to have coaches that are willing to make the call for us to do that. It's a lot of fun."
Head coach Chuck Pagano also had high praise for the kick and for McAfee. "The guys do a great job of game planning, and scheming, and practicing and executing," Pagano said Friday. "We've got a great weapon in Pat (McAfee). He's playing at a high level and he can execute a bunch of different things. What he executed [Thursday], he executed to a T and it was great design."
The discussion was all about the onside kick, and understandably so, but the play is just a representation of the absolutely terrific season that McAfee is having overall this year. He's sixth in the league in punting average and second in net punting average - but a large reason for that is due to his "shorter" punts to pin teams inside their 20 yard line. He's had 11 pinned inside the 20 and only 1 touchback. In the past four weeks, ten of his thirteen punts have been pinned inside the 20 - in case you missed that, in the last four weeks 77% of his punts have pinned opponents inside the 20 yard line. When we're talking about the defensive success of the team over that span (which, might I add, has also been very impressive), it's also important to note the field position. McAfee has helped the defense out tremendously.
But he's not just the punter! He's also the team's kickoff specialist, and he leads the NFL with 33 touchbacks. So basically, unless a drive ends in a turnover, McAfee will have a chance to pin teams deep. He's a very dangerous weapon for the Colts - and, again, he's converted three onside kick attempts this year (and he's the team's holder on field goals and PATs as well).
In short, Pat McAfee has been playing as well (better) than any punter in the league and arguably better than any specialist in the league. You could make a strong case that no special teams player has been more impactful or important to his team as McAfee this year, and he should be rewarded with a Pro Bowl berth and an All-Pro nomination at the end of the season if he keeps it up. And there's no reason to think he won't, because, after all, he's the Boomstick - the Colts' not-so-secret weapon.