Pat McAfee, Boomstick or Hitstick?
How about that Madden video game reference? Coming off a rough outing in San Diego, Colts punter Pat McAfee needed to have a better game, and he bounced back very well on the big stage. With the offense sputtering here and there, McAfee had to punt nine times (not counting the ones negated by penalties).
He averaged 48 yards on those nine punts, six of which were downed or fair caught inside the 20. McAfee recovered from a 32-yarder that sailed out of bounds on his first try with a 54-yarder to the Denver 7 on his next attempt that ended in Stanly Havili’s forced fumble and Special Teams Ace Sergio Brown’s recovery (Should’ve been a TD. Ugh, silly rules). Later in the game, he saw a 56-yarder called back only to boom one 60-yards to the Denver 17 (a holding call on the Broncos placed the ball at the 12).
As well as he did in the punting game, his big highlight reel play came on the kickoff following Darrius Heyward-Bey’s touchdown. Denver’s Trindon Holliday received the kickoff seven yards deep and decided to return it. Things broke down, as they have for so many coverage teams trying to bring down the speedy returner, and as Holliday approached midfield, he had the punter to beat.
As we know, the punter ended up laying some wood. He blasted Holliday along the sideline, sending the pumped up crowd into frenzy, and fortunately avoiding a penalty for some helmet-to-helmet contact. McAfee looked not unlike a safety on the play, but his tackling technique was anything but conventional. “It’s a nice bait-and-tackle, blind squirrel find a nut technique,” McAfee said. “I just kind of run as fast as I can with my eyes closed and hope he ends up in front of me.”
McAfee said they don’t put him through tackling drills at the Colts facility. “No, we don’t. When I was a rookie, we did a little bit because they just wanted to see if I could do it,” he said. “Nowadays, the thought of a guy who is built like a middle-aged man going through tackling drills is not a good idea. It was one of those things. Trindon Holliday is so impressive and so good and so fast that when you’re slow and unathletic, you got to work the angles. That’s kind of what happened.”
Coach Chuck Pagano took notice as well. “Special teams, kickers were outstanding. I’m thinking about moving Pat to linebacker or safety,” he said after the game. “I always knew he had it in him.”
With the circus out of town, and everyone finally running on a full night’s sleep, we take a moment to send our best wishes out to Reggie Wayne, one of the greatest Colts of all time, after his season-ending ACL tear. Reggie’s contribution to the fans, the organization, and his teammates cannot be measured by statistics.
The statistics we can quantify, however, are impressive. Six Pro Bowls, eight 1,000 + yard receiving seasons – including a league-leading 1,510 in 2007, four seasons with 100+ receptions, 13,566 career receiving yards – 11th in NFL history and 2nd among active players.
As Wayne grimaced on the field in the fourth quarter, the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium became quiet, followed by worried whispers about what had just happened. People didn’t talk about their silly fantasy teams, or what the injury might do to Colts’ chances – although the latter would eventually come up. This was a time for genuine concern. After all, one does not simply replace Reggie Wayne (I know, that sounds like a certain internet meme, but it’s applicable here). As Wayne finally made his way to the sideline, with some help, the emotionally exhausted fans began a somewhat teary-eyed “Reg-gie” chant.
Nobody knows if the beloved Colts receiver will be able to return next season, but his skill set as a smart, sure handed possession receiver who doesn’t depend on exceptional speed (though I’ve always felt he’s faster than he’s given credit for) should allow him to return in a helpful capacity after his recovery if he so desires.
Meanwhile, Chuck Pagano made it very clear that Wayne’s presence is too valuable not to have him around the team in meetings and such during his recovery. “He’s going to be there,” Pagano said. “He’ll miss, he’s going to have to go have something done surgically but I told him whether it’s on a stretcher, wheelchair, if we have to carry him in and out, he’ll be there every step of the way.”
Leftovers – Very Good Leftovers
Peyton Manning on the pregame tribute: “It was very nice. It was very nice gesture of the Colts to do that, I truly appreciated it and it was a great reception from the fans and I truly appreciated that as well. It’s something I will always remember, very grateful for it. It was a pretty special moment to have there and something I will always remember.”
Manning on the sack-fumble-safety by Robert Mathis: “That was a big play. Certainly any time you give them the safety and give them the ball again, it’s potentially a nine-point swing. Robert Mathis is a great player. It was a great play by him and that was one, among others, a couple of plays where we gave them some points or some field position and ultimately it was too tough to overcome.”
Manning on whether he lost some zip on the ball after Mathis’s first hit on him: “I throw a lot of wobbly passes. I throw a lot of wobbly touchdowns too. It was a good hit so I can’t say it did it but it was certainly a good hit, a healthy one as I would call it.”
Manning on seeing some old teammates: “I did. I saw Edgerrin and Marvin. They came into the locker room and had a really good visit with them. It was really neat and had a good visit with Jeff Saturday and (Ryan) Diem at the hotel last night and so I don’t get to see those guys enough so I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with all four of those guys.”
Manning on Jim Irsay’s comments: “Yeah I think that I can move past that but I can’t speak for others. I don’t see that being a lasting thing. This was a good football game with two good teams and I enjoyed coming back here. I appreciated Jim Irsay, he was the one who called for that tribute and I appreciated that very much and I let him know so. The game was disappointing for us and something we can learn from. I don’t see that being a lasting factor.”
Antoine Bethea on Reggie Wayne: “Most definitely. He’s our leader, a vet and it’s just tough to see him go down that way. Hopefully, it’s not too serious where he can get back to us, but most definitely prayers are with Reggie.”
Andrew Luck on Wayne: “Yeah, it stinks to the nth degree. We hope for the best. Really, I don’t know much. But I put a lot of blame on myself for missing. I don’t think there was anybody within a square-mile of him it seemed like and I missed it, so not happy about that. But we’ll see. Life goes on I guess.”
Vontae Davis on Wayne: “Yeah, I’m praying for him. Keeping him in my prayers. I hope Reggie make it through.”
Andrew Luck on the fans: “Absolutely. What a setting. It was rocking. The energy was, you could taste it almost, the enthusiasm. It was a very special environment to play in. I think us in the locker room, from the bottom of our hearts, thank the Colts fans that showed up. I think, obviously best in the country. From everything I hear, they’re the classiest fans in the country and it shows. We are so happy to have them behind us.”
All Quotes are courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts PR Department