INDIANAPOLIS —The biggest throw in Sunday's AFC South Division matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars didn't come out of the hand of either team's quarterback.
No — it was a high, lofting, wobbly pass from a punter.
But as Peyton Manning was able to prove for all his years in Indianapolis, it's the effectiveness of the throw — and not the way it looks — that really matters. And for the Jaguars and their punter, Brad Nortman, his toss on Jacksonville's opening drive not only got his team close to the red zone and helped set up the Jaguars' first touchdown — it set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
The fake punt play would end up playing a huge role in the Jaguars' 30-10 victory over the Colts at EverBank Field, and for head coach Chuck Pagano, it's lesson learned for his punt return unit.
"Credit them for having the play called; they executed it perfectly," Pagano said Monday night in his weekly appearance on 1070 The Fan's "Colts Roundtable Live." "Those passes, from a punter to a gunner or to the wing, the slot, it doesn't matter, they're not easy — they're not gimmes. Obviously they had worked on it and they had the right call at the right time."
The play came right as the Colts thought they had forced the Jaguars off the field on their initial drive in Sunday's game. Facing 4th and 7 from the Jacksonville 49-yard line, the Jaguars, of course, sent out Nortman and their punt team, but when the Indy return unit showed a certain look — they appeared to go nearly all-out to attempt a block, with just Chester Rogers back deep to receive the kick — Jacksonville took full advantage.
Nortman, who had not attempted a single NFL pass in his six-year NFL career prior to Sunday's game, lofted a pass over the middle to a wide open James O'Shaughnessy, and the tight end would rumble his way to the Indianapolis 22 for a huge 29-yard gain:
Four plays later, Bortles found wide receiver Marqise Lee for a four-yard touchdown, and the Jaguars were up, 7-0.
"It's not something that I usually do," Nortman said. "Luckily, we schemed it so it wasn't a timing route or anything like that. It was just a catch, a quick step, and a release out there and it was drawn up to perfection and he was out there wide open. I didn't have to put it through a pinhole or anything like that."
From there, Pagano said, "it didn't seem like anything went right" for the Colts.
"They go on to score a touchdown on that drive, and the rest is history," he said. "So credit them — they had a good call on, executed it, caught us in a rush."
By now, the Colts' head coach knows it's important not to harp on that specific special teams mistake, but to learn from it moving forward.
(Oh, and for what it's worth, Colton Schmidt, the punter for the Buffalo Bills, the Colts' opponent this Sunday at New Era Field, is also yet to attempt a pass in his four-year NFL career, although he has attempted two rushes for 16 yards — and has fumbled on both carries, both of which he recovered himself.)
"Can't turn back the clocks and there's no mulligans and no do-overs," Pagano said. "But we'll learn from it and we'll grow from it and we'll try to be better next time."