The Indianapolis Colts lost 34-27 to the New England Patriots on Sunday night, and all anybody is talking about today is the Colts - but not in a good way. The Colts ran an inexplicable fake punt play that didn't work and handed the Patriots the football back for free on a short field. That has, of course, led to some saying that Chuck Pagano's head coaching career is now over or even Colts players saying "I don't know what the (expletive) that was."
We've now had a chance to breathe a little bit since the play call, and it's still not a good call. I liked a lot of what Chuck Pagano did last night, such as the 4th and 1 call or the onside kick, but the fake punt was not a good decision whatsoever. He has taken all of the responsibility for that play (to his credit) and then today said that he doesn't regret the call but only the preparation.
While it still wasn't a good call (I'm not changing my mind on that one), I think that we can begin to understand the thinking behind it and the process just a little bit more. Based on what I've heard Chuck Pagano and several players say since the game, here's what my take on the play is.
The Colts had practiced that play call on and off again for over a year, and they brought it back this week just in case they wanted to use it. They checked with officials in practice to make sure that they were lined up correctly, so it's unclear who messed up in the game, as they were called for illegal formation. Basically, the Colts were hoping to catch the Patriots by surprise. It's hard to fool a Bill Belichick coached team, but this is something very, very rarely seen, so perhaps they could pull that off here. A penalty would give the Colts a first down, so perhaps they could confuse the Patriots into a penalty such as having too many men on the field. Or maybe the Patriots would have to use a timeout that they might need later in the game in order to regroup. Then there was the possibility of the Patriots blowing their alignment because of confusion and perhaps paving the way for a successful play. So the intent of this play was solely to confuse the defense. If that didn't happen (and it didn't, as the Patriots remained calm and were ready for it), the plan all along was to take a delay of game, move the ball back five yards, and then punt the ball - using Pat McAfee to their advantage to make the delay of game penalty not matter as much.
From what I've heard and as far as I understand, it sounds like snapping the football wasn't even the first option for the Colts on this play. I think they simply hoped that they would force the Patriots to use a timeout or commit a penalty, and they were ready in case that didn't happen. Snapping the ball was certainly an option, yes, but I don't think it was the most prominent one on that particular play. So, if that's true, I cannot imagine a scenario in which the Colts don't emphasize in practice to the center (Griff Whalen) that there is a very real chance that the football won't be snapped. In fact, be fully ready to not snap the ball on the play. Chuck Pagano said that he needed to prepare his players better for the play, but I have to imagine that the Colts went through the options and emphasized that the ball very well might not be snapped - in fact, it probably wouldn't be snapped.
Earlier today, Scott Zolak, a color analyst for Patriots radio, tweeted that he talked to a Patriots player who said that Colt Anderson was screaming at Griff Whalen to not snap the football. Anderson saw that the alignment wasn't what they wanted and, according to Zolak, was screaming to let Whalen know that. So my biggest question comes down to this: what the heck was Whalen doing snapping that football? I have zero idea. I don't think snapping it was the first option, I have to imagine that they told the players that there was a good chance it wouldn't be snapped, and it sounds like Colt Anderson saw what he needed to and was telling Whalen not to hike it. So what happened? I have no idea. The Colts say it was simply miscommunication, and that's probably what it was, but it's inexcusable.
The football never should have been snapped. And if it's never snapped, then nobody is really talking about it today. So is that really what you think Pagano should be fired for and what you think he should never be a head coach again for? No, that's just stupid. Was it a good call? Not at all, regardless of how it was supposed to work, and Chuck Pagano should take blame for it. There's a fine line between being aggressive and being stupid, and that call was firmly in the latter category. But at the same time, I have no idea what Griff Whalen was doing snapping that football, and I'm not going to hang my #FirePagano hat on that one play. It's no secret that I think Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano should be in their final year with the Colts, but I thought that before the trick play and that one play shouldn't be the main reason used to hop on board the #FirePagano train, either. Pagano failed there and shouldn't have put the Colts in that situation, but the football never should have been snapped either. It basically was exactly what the Colts said it was: a miscommunication - a very big, hilarious, and ugly miscommunication.