About that Colts play: I think I know what it was supposed to be

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Griff Whalen (17) watches as Indianapolis Colts free safety Colt Anderson (32) is tackled New England Patriots running back James White (28) on a punt in the second half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Griff Whalen (17) watches as Indianapolis Colts free safety Colt Anderson (32) is tackled New England Patriots running back James White (28) on a punt in the second half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Here’s what happens when great plans go awry. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

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.

Reader Comments 0

22 comments
Kim23
Kim23

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PaulinNH
PaulinNH

Not too many coaches come out with a W when they think the way to beat the Patriots is to outsmart Belichick

El-Bey
El-Bey

Here is where Pagano may have sealed his fate.  In the post-game press conference he said that one of the desired outcomes would be a '12-men on the field' penalty on the Pats.  Uh....don't you have to snap the ball in order for that penalty to occur?  If your lip-reading is accurate and if Steven A. Smith's reporting is accurate (he proclaimed that several Colts on the field for that play proclaimed the ball was NEVER supposed to be snapped) then Pagano contradicted himself. Anderson looked waayyy to confounded to count the Pats players.

SunDropMan
SunDropMan

There's quite a few high school teams who do the "swinging gate" type thing, with some variations, on their extra point tries.  What the other team does determines what they do after lining up this way. Most of the time they all just shift back over and kick it.  The timing on this play is very critical.

AllanBC
AllanBC

how about butterfingers terrence edwards dropping a wide open TD pass against florida in 2002 when they choked against ron zook's mediocre team???

Surelyyoujest
Surelyyoujest

Speaking of OH:IO - how does a Big Ten team (Iowa) get to play TWELVE games this year and not have to play any of the 4 other teams in the Big 10 that are any good (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State) BEFORE the BIG 10 championship game?  Talk about a path to the playoffs schedule that even Ohio State would be proud of en route to the playoffs.................

Samurai-Squirrel
Samurai-Squirrel

Worst play in UGA history... 


1. Chris Conley catching the ball from Aaron Murray in the last seconds vs Bama in the SEC championship game when he should have let it hit the ground


or


2. Reggie Davis dropping a wide-open game tying touchdown pass in the last few seconds against Tennessee that would have given UGA a chance to "control their own destiny" this year

Fierce
Fierce

@Samurai-Squirrel Both hurt but clearly the Conley catch. That win would have all but made the Dawgs national champs. ND was not as good as advertised. 

hardworkinman
hardworkinman

@Samurai-Squirrel What about the secondary debacle at Auburn on the Hail Mary? I've never seen a play that was more of a punch to the gut than that one.

MaybeMaybeNot
MaybeMaybeNot

@Samurai-Squirrel Mark Richt calling a pooch kick against Ga Tech is the all time flubber of plays.  


That idiotic call won the game for Tech.

MaybeMaybeNot
MaybeMaybeNot

@Fierce @Samurai-Squirrel You are making a very big assumption that UGA would have scored a touchdown on the final play of the game if Conley had dropped the ball.  

brian1229
brian1229

If you knew Ron Swanson at all then you would know that he is not a man that would be involved in such tomfoolery. He's a run it up the gut type of man and I think you would do good to remember that in the future. 

ATLFan
ATLFan

I feel sorry for the Michigan kicker. He's a kid who made a mistake into a bigger mistake by just not falling on his fumble. But for a professional football team to intentionally design a play like that one, presumably practice it, and to still mess it up so bad, that's firing material.

Rickster_
Rickster_

I've seen some stupid plays in my life (after all... I've lived here my entire life and watched the Falcons since they came to be) - but that may be the stupidest I've ever seen.

Rickster_
Rickster_

Although the "Miracle in The Meadowlands" (Joe Pisarcik's fumble of a handoff - rather than taking a knee - resulting in a game-losing TD) between the Giants and Eagles) certainly ranks up there.

HeyThere
HeyThere

@Rickster_ I've been to a million high school — HIGH SCHOOL — games and never seen anything so stupid

AlwaysReady
AlwaysReady

Rankin Smith fired Leeman Bennett and hired Dan Henning to get the Falcons to a higher plateau.

Rickster_
Rickster_

@AlwaysReady Of course... Rankin also said that he'd hire a man like Marion Campbell if he hadn't just fired him.

Heisenberg
Heisenberg

On the bright side for the Colts, it was only the second worse punt play of the weekend.

BTC
BTC

@Heisenberg Yep   I was just going to say, "At least they aren't Michigan!"

OH:IO
OH:IO

I'd blame it on "Schotty".