CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears tried a fake punt with 10 players on the field.
This column could theoretically end here and it would be a perfect summation of the entire 2014 Bears season, but if it ended here, we couldn’t fully appreciate what has to be one of the worst plays in the history of football.
Not just the NFL. Football.
So what went wrong on the second quarter fake punt in the midst of Monday night’s 31-15 loss to the New Orleans Saints?
Well, for starters, let’s get back to the fact that there were only 10 Bears players on the field. That’s usually not a good strategy when attempting to execute a successful football play. More times than not, the opposing team has 11 players on the field, which is one more than 10.
But only having 10 players on the field is not illegal. Lining up with only six players on the line of scrimmage, however, is — which is why the Bears were flagged for an illegal formation.
Then there’s the issue of personnel. The Bears had four offensive linemen on the field, three of which are starters. If that’s not a red flag that a fake might be coming, I don’t know what is.
Not surprisingly, the Saints kept eight players in the box near the line of scrimmage. This left the Bears badly out-numbered on what was essentially a run up the middle on 4th-and-3.
And the down-and-distance is another issue. A run straight up the middle on 4th-and-3 is pretty risky, especially at your own 39-yard-line. Fourth-and-1 would be a different story.
But lets get back to the formation. The Bears only had 10 players on the field and two gunners were split out wide, one to each side. That left six players to block (from left-to-right: long snapper Jeremy Cain, left tackle Jermon Bushrod, left guard Ryan Groy, right guard Kyle Long, reserve offensive lineman Charles Leno and tight end Dante Rosario). Behind the line of scrimmage was up-back Danny McCray and the punter, Pat O’Donnell.
If you’re paying close attention so far, you’ll notice that the long snapper was lined up to the left of the left tackle. So who snapped the football? That would be left guard Ryan Groy, who has also served as Roberto Garza’s backup at center in recent weeks. The problem is, on this play, Groy only had one hand on the ball. Typically, you long-snap with two hands. Another dead give-away.
You’ve also probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned anyone who typically runs with the football in his hands. That’s because McCray, a safety, took the snap and served as the running back.
And when’s the last time McCray took a carry?
“The seventh grade. And I fumbled,” McCray told 87.7 The Game. “So they moved me to fullback.”
Now, lets get to the execution of the play. When the ball was snapped, Rosario was a little late to react, which basically made him useless as a blocker. As a result, the Bears ended up with only five blockers against an eight-man box.
And a safety running the football.
The illegal formation, of course, would have wiped out the play even if it had worked, but the Saints stopped McCray short so they were able to decline the penalty and take over possession at the Bears’ 41-yard-line.
So, just to recap, the Bears tried to run a fake punt with:
1. Only 10 players on the field.
2. Only six players on the line of scrimmage, which is illegal.
3. The long snapper lined up to the left and four offensive linemen on the field.
4. The starting left guard/backup center snapping the football with only one hand on the ball.
5. A safety carrying the football.
6. A tight end who reacted slowly to the snap.
7. Five blockers against eight defenders on a 4th-and-3 run.
And it didn’t work?
It’s unclear who was missing in the punt formation, mainly because no one was willing to sell out the guilty party after the game, but also because the Bears did not have their normal punt personnel on the field. McCray did say, however, that it was a blocker, which at least insults everybody’s football intelligence a little less. He also said that he realized before the snap that they were missing a player, but he called for the snap anyway.
“Probably should have just taken the delay. Shouldn’t have snapped it,” McCray said.
Probably should have thrown this play design in the trash too, but that’s not McCray’s fault.
Of course, a coach on the sideline could have called timeout. The head coach immediately comes to mind, but he also could have received some help from special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, who installed the odd play and had to know they were a man short. Right? Or did no one on the sidelines realize there were only 10 players on the field and only six on the line of scrimmage?
“I’m not going to go through the litany of all that,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said when asked what went wrong on the play. “You have a right to ask the question, but it’s really simple. We should have 11 players, but we had 10. I’m responsible for that.”
The play wasn’t just a new low for the league’s worst special teams’ unit, but it was also the perfect snapshot of the 2014 Chicago Bears.
This team isn’t just finding out how many ways they can screw up a season, now they’re finding out how many ways they can screw up one play.
And yes, Marc Trestman, you are responsible for that.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for 87.7 The Game and TheGameChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.