Colts failed trick play magnifies loss to Pats

AUSTIN HAMM Sports Editor

The Indianapolis Colts could taste it. They could taste the opportunity to top the New England Patriots, and they wanted it. They wanted it so bad. They wanted it so badly they were willing to try a trick play on fourth-and-3 in their own territory. Well, that play could not have gone much worse and the Patriots ultimately prevailed 34-27 on Sunday night in Indianapolis.

Coming into the game, the Colts were 0-4 against the Patriots since drafting Andrew Luck, including the stomping they endured in the AFC Championship game last season. But the former top pick’s struggles against the reigning Super Bowl champs was only part of the storyline in the build, as I’m sure anyone who follows football even casually knows. That AFC Championship game was the start of the “Deflategate” scandal, and many people zoned in on this game as a sort of revenge campaign for New England.

I’m sure there was some satisfaction in the Pats locker room after beating the team that can essentially be called the tattletales, but I think the way the Colts approached this game is a much more interesting angle to examine.

I mentioned the Colts recent record against New England. Without a doubt, that sits heavily on the minds of players, coaches and front office staff. The Patriots are what many consider to be the model franchise of the NFL and such a record of futility against them, combined with the widely accepted fact that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFL leads through them, means that beating the Patriots is a very important achievement to this Colts team that has made it further and further in the playoffs the last three years.

On the first drive of Sunday’s game, I felt that the Colts exhibited fire and tenacity befitting of a team looking to score a signature win against a favored opponent, and it culminated in a touchdown pass from Luck to Dante Moncrief. After that, there was a feeling that if the Colts could keep their foot on the gas, yet maintain their poise, they would really have a shot at this thing. And when they reached halftime, they sat on a 21-20 lead, having returned Brady’s first interception of the season (a tipped pass intended for Julian Edelman) for a touchdown and held tight end/mutant Rob Gronkowski to zero catches.

But then the Patriots pulled their usual Patriot mischief and made all the right adjustments at halftime. They opened the second half with a seven-play, 80-yard drive that finished with a Gronk score-and-spike. The next thing that happened in the game that made a lasting impact on the memory was the ill-fated trick play by Indianapolis. I admire the moxie of Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano, and I do not inherently hate the idea. But either pressure, a lack of preparation or a combination thereof caused a complete misreading of the situation by the Colts and the Patriots got the ball with unbelievably good field position to score the touchdown that proved to be the difference in the final score.

That the Colts were willing to try this play is very telling. It shows the level of desperation the organization has reached in their desire to get the New England monkey off their back. And the flop shows that the pressure reaches all the way to the players, who couldn’t execute the play. Barring some sort of miraculous turnaround, I think this will be Pagano’s last year in Indy. It will be a situation similar to the Denver Broncos parting ways with John Fox at the end of last season. The coach has led a good team, but they just can’t seem to be quite good enough. And when players look as unprepared for a trick play in a big game as they did this weekend, questions about his ability to command the team will begin to creep in. Pagano is a good coach, and he won’t be out of work long should the Colts decide to let him walk when his contract is up this year. I’m guessing he will be one of the first coaches a lot of teams call after Black Monday this NFL season, but I think the inability to beat the Pats will ultimately spell the end of Pagano’s time on the sidelines at Lucas Oil Stadium.