Washington executed one of the ugliest fake punts you’ll ever see in the fourth quarter on Thursday night, with punter Sav Rocca throwing a pass in the direction of receiver Niles Paul, who had his back turned and never even saw the ball fall incomplete behind him. So what happened?
After the game, Paul said not everyone on the punt team was on the same page: Some players thought they were supposed to run their fake punt based on a signal from special teams captain Reed Doughty, but others thought they were only supposed to run it if special teams coach Keith Burns confirmed it with them before they took the field, which Burns did not do.
“It was just a miscommunication,” Paul told the Washington Post. “Keith would alert that play. That wasn’t supposed to be called. . . . It wasn’t alerted because it was the first punt. That’s why nobody knew. . . . Keith would’ve alerted it from the sideline. Keith has to tell us that call was alerted. It wasn’t alerted. It wasn’t supposed to have been played.”
Rocca said the play was one they practiced and were planning to pull out during the game, but not on the first punt of the game: The plan was to see how the Vikings’ punt return team lined up before trying the fake, but as the game played out, Washington didn’t punt until the fourth quarter, and that’s when Rocca threw his pass.
The play could have worked — Paul was open — but the intended receiver not knowing the ball is coming to him is kind of a big mistake. Washington actually caught a break because of another mistake, with Jerome Murphy committing a false start that caused the whole play to be called back.
Mistakes on special teams are one of the major reasons that Washington is 3-6. Mike Shanahan has consistently defended Burns against criticism, but when the special teams have breakdowns in communications, it’s hard not to criticize the special teams coach.