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NFL Countdown #5 and The Messiest Drive in NFL History

NFL Countdown #5: In Week 11 of the 2020 season, Green Bay and Indianapolis combined for 8 penalties on a single Colts offensive drive. Only 5 were enforced, and the most exciting play of the drive was overturned after review. Gross.

In Week 11 of the pandemic-shadowed 2020 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers (7-2) traveled to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Indianapolis Colts (6-3). Both teams were leading their respective divisions, and the Colts had just held onto their 31-28 lead by stopping Aaron Rodgers on 4th down with just over three minutes left on the clock. With the fate of the game hanging in the balance, both teams just threw up all over themselves and gave us the worst drive of the 2020 season. Five enforced penalties. Three declined penalties. A defensive touchdown overturned after review. Somehow only 1:32 off the clock over the course of eight disgusting plays. Let’s dive in.

The Packers turnover on downs gave Indianapolis the ball with a 3-point lead and a manageable 3:06 left on the clock to burn. Sitting on their own 34-yard line, the Colts needed to get a couple first downs before they could start to ice the game. Philip Rivers took the first snap from the gun and immediately hit Marcus Johnson on deep in-route, good for 14 yards and 44 seconds off the clock. Preston Smith was fooled by a hard count on the next play (1), giving the Colts five yards on the first penalty of the drive and the fourth offsides call against the Packers on the day. Next play, Packers are called for too many men on the field (2), giving Rivers the first down on the Packers’ 42-yard line.

The Packers defense was shook, but was given a much-needed break on the next snap when they got 10 yards back thanks to an offensive holding call on wide receiver Michael Pittman (3). Sitting at 1st & 20, the Colts gained no ground on a run play and were called for holding, their sixth of the day, and the gamecast picked up a perfect soundbite of a Colts player screaming at his teammate, Mark Glowinski.

The Packers started playing chess where checkers would have sufficed, and declined the penalty. Alright, maybe the wrong call, but 2nd and 20 at mid-field isn’t too bad. The Packers gave up a single yard on another run play, looked another gift horse in the mouth, and said “no thank you” to another Colts penalty, this time from an illegal motion by Zach Pascal. 3rd and 19 at mid-field, 2:04 on the clock. Philip Rivers made about 10 pre-snap adjustments at the line and dialed up a screen to Jordan Wilkins. After picking up 15 yards on the play, the Colts finally made it to the two-minute warning! With the primary objective of killing time to ice the game, Rivers took six snaps over the course of 18 seconds on the game clock with no timeouts called. It has now been eight full real-world minutes since the Colts got the ball back.

Rivers in the gun at the edge of field goal range on a 4th and 4, Nyheim Hines lines up out-wide and gets open thanks to a natural pick from teammate Chester Rogers, catches the pass in the flat and is brought down by Jaire Alexander for 13 yards and a first down. Packers call their first timeout, but things are looking futile with 1:55 on the clock and their opponent on their 23-yard line and marching. As a Packer fan, my anxiety started to creep in because I have seen this sequence in pretty much every Green Bay loss: Aaron Rodgers alone on the sidelines, silently watching as his defense gives up chunk play after chunk play, slowly coming to terms with the fact that he won’t be given the chance to lead a heroic drive to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

1st and 10, Colts back in the drivers’ seat and staring down the barrel of a chip shot field goal to give them a six-point lead or a touchdown that would effectively end the game. Jonathan Taylor takes a handoff up the middle and gives the Colts exactly what they needed with 6 yards and a running clock, but Mark Glowinski is charged with his second hold in four snaps (4). Back on the Packers’ 33-yard line, the Colts can’t even look at Glowinski as they waited for the play call, staring at the ground while shaking their heads. Rivers takes the next snap and rifles the ball to the right sideline, gaining no yards on an incompletion that stops the clock at 1:47. Jonathan Taylor does his job again, gaining a solid 9-yards that didn’t count because two of his teammates were called for holding (5). One of the two penalties was accepted, and the Colts were walked back to Green Bay’s 43-yard line.

Now with a ridiculous 30 yards to go on 2nd down, the Colts hand Jordan Wilkins the ball for a hard-fought 4 yard gain that forces the Packers the use their second timeout. On 3rd down, Za’Darius Smith pushes through the middle of the Colts protection and hits Rivers as he was releasing the football in the weird, whipping motion the veteran QB somehow built a career on. The ball hits the turf and was picked up by Packers’ linebacker Christian Kirksey, who looks around a little bit before taking off and bringing the ball 71 yards to the house as Colts players half-heartedly jog behind him. We get some great shots of Philip Rivers mouthing his classic “gol-dangit”s and “dad-gummit”s during the official review, and the play was ruled an incompletion. Sitting at 4th and 26 at the edge of field goal range, the Colts punted and ended the worst drive I’ve ever seen with 1:34 left on the clock.

Rodgers did what Rodgers does, and marched 86 yards down the field with four quick strikes to his passcatchers to let Mason Crosby’s field goal tie the game up with three seconds to spare. The Packers lost in overtime, but I was more angry with the journey than the destination. Both teams contributed to stretching 49 seconds on the clock into a disgusting ordeal that took at least 20 minutes out of my Sunday (15:05 on gamecast without commercials). Five penalties were enforced – two from the Packers, three from their opponents. An additional three penalties were discounted. The Colts gained 57 yards and lost 30 due to penalty, and their 14 snaps took just 1:32 off the clock thanks to the penalties and two Packers’ timeouts. It was a drive between an easily stoppable force and a freely moving object, two dumpster fires coalescing into a gigantic cluster of mediocrity and mental errors as fans of both teams were held hostage to scream at their TVs and loved ones.

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