Super Bowl XLIV: The (Other) Snap that Killed the Colts

Games always boil down to more than one play.  Pierre Garcon’s dropped pass on 3rd down near the 8 minute mark of the 2nd quarter was a big play.  Earlier this week, I showed how the Saints defense stepped up to halt the march of the Colts in the 4th quarter after Reggie Wayne converted a 4th down.  Those were not the only plays that mattered in Sunday’s game.

A Lesson in Clock Management

This clip shows how the Colts hurt themselves before the snap of the ball.  The defense had just stopped the Saints at the goal line on 4th down.  Indianapolis had secured the ball deep in their own territory.  The play that the Colts would run (pictured below) on 3rd down was the same play they ran for a few yards on first down.  In between these mirror plays, Joseph Addai ripped off a 7 yard run to get the Colts close to the Promised Land (halftime with a 10-3 lead).

With one minute remaining, the Colts had the ball and faced a 3rd and short.  The ball was on the 10-yard line.  If the Colts were going to be aggressive, they should have run a play as quickly as possible and tried to get into scoring position.  Indianapolis did not do that.  They didn’t rush to the line.  They didn’t call a pass play on this sequence to preserve the clock for their own drive.

Manning Snaps the Ball Too Soon

If the Colts were not going to attempt to score, the best decision would have been to do on 3rd down what they did on 2nd down: run the clock down.  Manning snaps the ball with :14 seconds remaining on the play clock.   It was this decision, as much as any other, that allowed the Saints the time to mount a scoring drive of their own and close the halftime gap to 10-6.  Michael Hart was tackled by Sedrick Ellis; the Saints called timeout; and Brees hit Devery Henderson deep down the seam to put the Saints in field goal range.  Peyton Manning gave the keys to Brees and he scored.

(The thinking behind the early snap may have been to catch the Saints defenders off guard.  Manning may have thought the Colts would have been at an advantage snapping at :14, rather than running the clock down to :01 where a quick snap or modified cadence would have no impact.  The Saints were prepared and capitalized on what must be classified as either an error or a calculated risk by Peyton Manning.)

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