A few weeks ago, the Colts pulled off a very successful fake punt pass that caught the Pittsburgh Steelers by surprise and converted on fourth down for a big gain. It gave the Colts a spark in that Thanksgiving night game, but unfortunately the Colts couldn’t seize that momentum moving forward.
On Saturday, the Colts were once again in need of a spark. They faced the brink of elimination on the road against a tough Raiders opponent on Christmas Eve, so they once again went to the trick play well. This time, they tried a fake field goal. Midway through the first quarter with the teams still scoreless, the Colts faced a fourth down and five from the Oakland 30 yard line.
It was then that they pulled out the fake field goal, which was planned in advance. “Yeah, the look was there,” head coach Chuck Pagano explained on Monday. “If we didn’t have the look that we practiced against and that we saw over and over and over and over, a ton of tape watched, then we would have gotten out of it.” McAfee later confirmed on Twitter that it was a planned play call, meaning that it wasn’t just an audible by McAfee - but he did have the freedom to check out of the play if the look wasn’t there. The thing is, though, that the Colts seemed to get the look they wanted.
The key to this play, as McAfee explained on Twitter, is Raiders linebacker Daren Bates, number 56. He’s supposed to peel off and follow kicker Adam Vinatieri, who was trying to sell the fake as he ran to the right. Instead, though, Bates made a great play and read what was happening, following McAfee rather than Vinatieri.
Outside of Bates, however, the Colts got exactly what they wanted on the play. The Colts were able to get the play blocked really well, as the interior of the offensive line did their job and then Jack Doyle did a nice job keeping his guy outside, while Zach Kerr headed downfield to block safety Nate Allen. That left a clear running lane open for Pat McAfee to get an easy first down... if Daren Bates had indeed bit on the fake and followed Vinatieri. Instead, Bates read it well and plugged the hole, leaving McAfee no room to run.
McAfee tried to spin away from the tackle, which was a valiant effort by a punter but that ultimately was stopped short of the first down (McAfee called the spin move “an incredible Madden spin move”). The Raiders subsequently went three and out, so the play didn’t prove to be too costly, but it did cost the Colts some points - probably at least three, and perhaps more if they had converted successfully.
Both at the time and in hindsight, the move seemed like too much of a desperation move. It seemed like the Colts were trying to do whatever they could to get a spark, and it wasn’t a bad idea to go for it on fourth down there. But in that situation, especially early in the game, it’s a ton better to trust your offense - which is a good unit - to get five yards over Pat McAfee on a trick play. The Colts got the look they wanted, but Daren Bates made a nice play and shut it down.