If Chuck Pagano does not last a lot longer as coach of the Indianapolis Colts, his team's bizarre, botched fake punt against the New England Patriots might very well stand out as a symbol of his sudden fall from grace.
The play in the Colts' 34-27 loss to the Patriots on Sunday night was a failure in every way possible - poorly conceived, poorly executed. So was Pagano's explanation of what went on.
Here's what happened: Trailing by six late in the third quarter, Indianapolis had fourth-and-3 at its 37; after initially lining up in a standard punt formation, the Colts shifted nine players toward one sideline; they put two near the football, receiver Griff Whelan (lined up as the snapper) and safety Colt Anderson (lined up as the quarterback, right behind Whelan); even though the Patriots had three players right there, Whelan hiked to Anderson, who was tackled right away.
Adding to the embarrassment of a sequence that Pagano acknowledged ''played a huge factor in this loss'' was that the Colts were whistled for a penalty because not enough players were along the line of scrimmage. Gifted a short field, Tom Brady swiftly drove the Patriots to a TD, and that pretty much was that.
Reacting in real time, former NFL receiver Cris Collinsworth spoke for millions of TV viewers by exclaiming on NBC's broadcast of the game: ''What was the plan?!''
Pagano - whose Colts are 0-3 outside the terrible AFC South - attempted to offer an answer afterward. He spoke about hoping to perhaps catch the Patriots with 12 men on the field or ''misaligned,'' and about how if that didn't happen, his players were supposed to take a delay-of-game penalty.
He also referred to a ''communication breakdown,'' and noted: ''I didn't do a good enough job of coaching it during the week.''
In case you missed it, here are other top topics after the NFL's sixth regular-season Sunday:
WHAT, EXACTLY, IS A TD CATCH?: No one really seems to know. The latest example of a call that created confusion came when Detroit's Golden Tate grabbed a pass in the end zone, then had the football stripped by one Chicago defender and plucked out of the air by another. Interception, right? Touchback, right? That's what the officials signaled initially; eventually the call was reversed and ruled a TD. ''I don't know what a touchdown is anymore,'' former coach Tony Dungy declared on ''Football Night in America.''
BAD CALL: The Vikings would have led 2-0 in the first quarter against the Chiefs had Jerome Boger's officiating crew not missed a safety. Kansas City snapped the ball from its own 2, Chiefs left guard Ben Grubbs was called for holding Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd - and a holding call in the end zone is an automatic safety. Boger, though, announced the penalty occurred in the field of play; replays showed Grubbs halfway into the end zone.
STUMBLING SEAHAWKS: The ''Legion of Boom'' is not what it used to be, and two-time reigning NFC champ Seattle is 2-4 after giving up a last-minute touchdown pass in a 27-23 loss to Cam Newton and Carolina. The Seahawks have led in the fourth quarter of every game.
PEYTON'S PICKS: Peyton Manning threw three more interceptions for the unbeaten Broncos, including one returned for a touchdown, and now has two TD passes and seven picks in his past three games. ''He's trying to do too much, at times,'' Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said.
STEELERS ON QB 3: Ben Roethlisberger is still nursing a bad knee, and Michael Vick left for good Sunday with a bad hamstring - after a knock to the helmet was dismissed by the Steelers as resulting only in dirt in his eye - so Pittsburgh was down to Landry Jones at quarterback. He'd never thrown a regular-season NFL pass, but connected with Martavis Bryant for two TDs in a 25-13 victory over Arizona. ''I still can't believe,'' Jones said, ''that I got in the game and got to play.''
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