It’s called the Swinging Gate. (Afterward, Bill Belichick would describe it as “a Swinging-Gate type of thing,” which was his way of saying: Whatever it was, it was dumb.) But the Swinging Gate can work. I’ve seen it work.
I saw it work for St. Xavier High School against Bryan Station back in 1975, which was so long ago I was in college. My UK roommate and I had gone to the game because it was in Lexington — St. X is based in Louisville — and the visiting team was ranked No. 1. St. X ran the play for a 2-point conversion.
A few years later, the man who was coaching St. X that night — Bill Glaser — would describe the play in detail to me. (Glaser was by then the defensive line coach for Kentucky, which I was covering for the Lexington Herald-Leader.) You shift most of your team to one side of the field — the “swinging gate” part. You have the guy who takes the snap throw a pass/lateral across the field to someone who steps back to receive it and who has five blockers in front.
It’s a screen pass, but it’s almost better than the normal screen because the blockers are already in place and the defense is scrambling and you only need a couple of yards. I loved the play, which worked like a charm that Friday night at Bryan Station.
I think I know what the Indianapolis Colts were trying to do Sunday night against the New England Patriots. (If you haven’t seen the play by now, you’re the only one.) When I saw it, I thought, “That’s the Swinging Gate.” Except that it wasn’t.
The Swinging Gate I recall didn’t leave only the center in the middle of the field. The guards stayed with him. And the person receiving the snap — essentially the quarterback on this play — wasn’t aligned behind center. He was in the shotgun. It’s supposed to go: Shotgun snap, pass/lateral, run straight upfield behind five blockers, quick quick quick.
The way the Colts ran it — or appeared to try to run it, or whatever — was crazy stupid. I know you know that already, but I say it for the record. After the mass shift to the right, there were no guards to help protect Colt Anderson, who was stationed directly behind center. (In this case, the “center” was receiver Griff Whalen.) The only thing that could have happened was what did: The Patriots burst across the line and tackled Anderson before he could move. I say again: Crazy stupid.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano was seen asking Whalen, “Why did you snap it?” Apparently Pagano’s intent was to try to wrong-foot the Patriots into a bad bit of shifting, and if said shifting didn’t occur, the idea was to let the play clock expire and reassess. The Colts have called it “a miscommunication” and offered few details as to who was at fault. Me, I’d start with Pagano and go up and down the line: Special teams coordinator, snapper, snap-taker, mayor of Indianapolis, Ron Swanson.
Here I note that the most wretched play in Atlanta Falcons history came against the 1986 Indianapolis Colts, who were 0-13 and who’d just fired head coach Rod Dowhower and replaced him with Ron Meyer. Having started the season 4-0, the Falcons had dropped to 6-6-1 but still had playoff hopes. I was at the old stadium the day it happened, and the first sentence of what I wrote for Monday’s Atlanta Journal was: “This was the worst.”
Four years ago, when the Falcons were headed to Indy to play another winless Colts team, I revisited that grim day. Here goes.
Leading by two points with 1:25 remaining, the Falcons faced third down at the Colts’ 29. A run for no gain would have killed 40 seconds and left them with a 46-yard field goal to all but clinch the game. Instead Henning ordered a pass. The Falcons sent out only two receivers, leaving eight men to block. Nobody blocked Dave Ahrens, who dropped Turk Schonert for a 14-yard loss and forced the Falcons to punt, which was the last thing they wanted.
Lo and behold, Rick Donnelly’s punt was almost blocked. Indy’s Tate Randle missed the ball but slammed into Donnelly, drawing a flag that should have given the Falcons a first down and the game. But wait. Downfield, the Falcons’ Aaron Brown threw two punches at the Colts’ Jeff Leiding. Brown was called for a personal foul. The Falcons had to punt again.
Whereupon Tate Randle, who almost blocked the first punt, did block the second. Eugene Daniel gathered up the loose ball at the 13 and returned it for the go-ahead touchdown with 20 seconds remaining. Unbelievable.
But all wasn’t lost — yet. Schonert completed two quick passes, and his final throw hit tight end Arthur Cox in full stride inside the Colts’ 5-yard line. Had Cox held the ball, he’d surely have scored the winning touchdown. He dropped it. The Falcons lost 28-23 to a team that was winless no longer.
Said Falcons guard Bill Fralic: “We kept looking for a way to lose, and we finally found one.”
Said Schonert: “We played stupid football. We played Santa Claus. We said, ‘Here’s the game,’ and they took it.”
(Coach Dan) Henning’s postgame briefing lasted 93 seconds. He would be fired 15 days later.
I stand by what I averred 29 years ago: That was the single worst moment in Falcons history. (Others have come close. I was at Wembley last year, too.) They had a punt blocked — a mulligan of a punt, no less — at a time when you couldn’t have a punt blocked. But for all the mistakes that would yield a loss to an 0-13 team, they weren’t a function of design.
The Colts had a design for what they were trying to do Sunday. (Ford had high hopes for the Edsel, too.) But their bizarre non-punt led to the Patriots touchdown that essentially made a loser of Indianapolis on the night that team and that city had earmarked as its moment of retribution for DeflateGate.
At such a moment, we’re all given to hyperbole. We’re all apt to say, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.” But that play Sunday night? Dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. If the Colts’ plan was to trump DeflateGate with the Swinging Gate, they lost yet again.