If recent history is any indicator, Wednesday's newest episode of Hard Knocks In Season: The Indianapolis Colts will be appointment viewing.
The HBO series, which has been providing all-access coverage of the Colts' 2021 season, has, at multiple junctures, featured special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone and his penchant for planning for specific opponent weaknesses, parlaying that plan to his players during the week, and then seeing that plan executed to perfection on game day.
And, judging by his reaction on the sideline late in the first quarter of Saturday night's critical Week 15 matchup against the New England Patriots, Ventrone pulled yet another rabbit out of his hat worthy of Hard Knocks air time.
This time, it was linebacker Matthew Adams who exploited a hole in the Patriots' punt protection, as he charged untouched into the path of Jake Bailey's kick, extending both arms and sending the ball flying backwards, where it was recovered in the end zone by fellow linebacker E.J. Speed for a touchdown.
It was the second time this season the Colts have recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown, as another linebacker, Zaire Franklin, got his hands on a Jacksonville Jaguars’ punt back in Week 10 that was recovered and returned for a touchdown, also by Speed.
"He was talking about it all week," Colts head coach Frank Reich said of Ventrone and the blocked punt play against the Patriots on Saturday. "He's on a roll. He should go to Vegas or whatever. I mean, (the) man is on a roll."
Indy's huge special teams play against the Patriots helped put a stamp on a dominant first quarter for a Colts team looking to make a late-season statement and continue charging towards a spot in the playoffs.
The Colts had just taken a 7-0 lead thanks to a tricky eight-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Carson Wentz to running back Nyheim Hines. The Indy defense responded by allowing just one first down on the ensuing Patriots drive, which stalled at the New England 32-yard line. With 21 seconds left in the first quarter, Bailey lined up for the punt, and Adams, rushing from the interior, was left unaccounted for by the Patriots' protection — "We didn't block the guy," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said when asked about the play — and did the rest from there.
The resulting touchdown gave Indy a 14-0 lead, and was a critical part of the Colts' eventual 27-17 victory that, for now, has propelled them into the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoff picture.
Ventrone erupted on the sideline after yet another huge play by his special teams units, which find a a way to make a major impact one way or another seemingly week after week.
"Bubba is such a good coach," Reich said. "He's such a good coach, such a good leader. He really has those guys playing well. They believe. You can't say enough about Bubba."
The play for the Colts represented the eighth time since at least 1994 that a team has logged two punt block returns for touchdowns in the same season; if they can find a way to do it again, they'll join the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles as the only teams to do it three times in a season.
Speed, meanwhile, became the only NFL player since at least 1994 to log two punt block return touchdowns in the same season. He joins Ed Reed (Baltimore Ravens, 2002 and 2003) and Blake Countess (Los Angeles Rams, 2017 and 2018) as the only players over that span with multiple punt block return scores.