Syria, the migrant crisis, Biden’s looming challenge to Hillary: There are lots of historic disasters in the news today. Let’s add this to the pile.
The difference between this play and the ending to the Michigan/MSU game on Saturday is the difference between a building that collapses because of an engineering flaw and one that collapses because it’s been hit by a tornado. Michigan/MSU was a freak sequence of improbable errors and sheer luck. The punter bobbled the snap, the ball was flipped into the air, and it landed in the hands of a Spartan with only one Wolverine between him and the goal line. It’s a million-to-one fluke. This Colts disaster last night owes nothing to luck; it’s bad design paired with atrocious execution. The first time I watched it, I thought leaving the snap unprotected was a ploy to draw the Patriots offside. (It was fourth-and-three at the time.) Not so, says Indy Coach Chuck Pagano. It was a ploy to … do something else, I guess.
“I take responsibility there,” Pagano said. “The whole idea there was, on a fourth-and-3 or less, shift to an alignment where you either catch them misaligned, they try to sub some people in, catch them with 12 men on the field. If you get a certain look, 3 yards, 2 yards, you can make a play. But again, we shifted over, and I didn’t do a good enough job coaching it during the week.
“Alignment-wise, we weren’t lined up correctly and then a communication breakdown between the quarterback and snapper. That’s all on me. I take full responsibility on that, and I didn’t do a good enough job getting that communicated to the guys. Obviously, it played in a huge factor in this loss.”
It’s not just leaving the passer unprotected that didn’t work. The other nine Colts on the field failed to line up at the line of scrimmage, which resulted in a penalty. (You need seven on the line. The Patriots declined the penalty, of course.) Even worse, watch those nine at the bottom of the screen and you’ll see that they barely moved once the ball was snapped. I think this analysis is right — once the Colts realized that the Pats hadn’t been fooled by the unorthodox formation, everyone expected that time out would be called and they’d reset for a real punt. The snap was never supposed to happen at that point. But it did happen. And the weirdest part is, even the snapper — wide receiver Griff Whalen — seems surprised. He looks confused as the Pats rush past him. Dude?
Exit question: One thing I still can’t figure out about the Michigan/MSU ending is how the ball ended up in the air after the punter had muffed it. Did it pop out as he was hit or did he actually try to lateral it to one of his teammates? He didn’t fall on the ball, I guess, for fear that the change of possession after the play was over would give MSU a shot at a game-winning field goal. A lateral would be an even riskier play, though, so I assume the ball was forced out. Didn’t look that way on camera, though. It looked like a pass, one of the most ill-advised of all time.