Fake punt call deflates Colts chances at redemption


INDIANAPOLIS — The floor creaked under Chuck Pagano’s feet as he fielded a barrage of questions from reporters late Sunday night.

The agitation in his voice was conspicuous. The rhythmic shuffling of his “happy feet” dancing behind the podium between responses grated the press conference stage.

The nearly 10-minute delay before he came out to address the media said more than enough, but there was still some explaining to do. He couldn’t slip out the backdoor, even if he tried.

New England Patriots 34, Indianapolis Colts 27.

Those pesky Pats did it again, winning for a seventh straight time and for a fifth consecutive in the Andrew Luck era.

It wasn’t nearly as repugnant as Indianapolis’ 45-7 loss in the AFC Championship game. The seven-point margin (even in defeat) was the closest in recent memory since the Colts’ 35-34 comeback win on Sunday Night Football in 2009.

Remember, back when Bill Belichick’s infamous fourth-and-2 call from the Patriots’ own 28 put the spotlight on the coach’s inflated arrogance?

On this Sunday night, though, the 800-pound gorilla in the Circle City focused on one of the oddest months-long sports scandals in NFL history: Deflategate.

The “cheaters” vs. the whistleblowers.

The frenzied Lucas Oil Stadium crowd did its job to keep the rivalry fresh, taunting public enemy No. 1, Tom Brady, with merciless boos and handmade signs publicly displaying their disdain — and comical whereabouts of his AWOL cellphone.

Andrew Luck finally bucked the trend despite a three-week layoff due to a shoulder injury, passing for 312 yards, three touchdowns, zero picks on 30 of 50 pass attempts and a 98.1 passer rating.

In the last four games against the Patriots, he sputtered. Previously completing only 50.3 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a 58.7 rating, Luck proved more student than equal to the four-time Super Bowl champion.

Everything was different this time, though. For a fourth straight week, the Colts offense produced. They looked like a contender.

Newcomers Andre Johnson was active, securing the game’s first pass for a 16-yard gain. Frank Gore found space and when there weren’t any holes up front, he made them by breaking tackles to finish with 78 yards rushing and 6.0 yards per carry.

The defense flustered but recovered as Julian Edelman seemed to be everywhere early until a bobbled ball was snagged from the air by Colts’ Mike Adams for a pick-six in the second quarter.

The Colts led three times before halftime.

Then the third quarter happened.

The fake punt call on fourth-and-3 on their own 37.

The Colts down 27-21.

“Who called for the ball to be snapped on the punt?” a reporter inquired while Pagano’s facial expression time traveled back to Week 2’s frustration.

“Again, it was a communication breakdown,” the Colts head coach raspily responded. “It’s on me. It was a communication breakdown, it’s not on those players.”

Days later, punter Pat McAfee would explain the mishap in greater detail on the Bob and Tom Show Tuesday morning. Griff Whalen wasn’t suppose to be the center on the play, which might as well have been pulled from the Zionsville High School football playbook.

An injury to Clayton Geathers forced Whalen into the role with the intent of the play to draw the Patriots offside or with too many men on the field.

The Colts wanted to catch them off guard.

Fair enough. But that doesn’t explain the illegal formation penalty, the offensive line’s inability to lineup on the line of scrimmage or the snap, which deflated the energy right out of the stadium as Colt Anderson was gang tackled by three Patriots.

Short field tuned into Patriots’ eventual decisive touchdown: Brady to Colts’ killer LaGarrette Blount for 11-yards. Game over.

“Is that a play you’ve practiced for a number of week?,” another reporter asked.

“What?” Pagano said. “Can you say that again? Louder. I can’t hear you.”

Too bad the national audience couldn’t have tuned out “the play,” let alone the question. There’s no ground to stand on in situations like Fakegate. Not even a new Star Wars trailer would have stopped the memes from awakening.

Victory is the only solution and with Pagano facing a contract year, it hasn’t happened for the Colts outside the AFC South at 0-3.

“We didn’t want to leave any bullets in the gun,” Pagano said. “We wanted to be aggressive in all three phases. It wasn’t desperation, it was stuff that was practiced and worked on for a long time…”

I don’t know about the Patriots, but you could have fooled us.

Rich Torres is the sports editor for the Daily Reporter. Send comments to [email protected].