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Strickly Panthers: Tricks are treats

Posted Dec 20, 2011

When offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski called a trick play the Panthers are affectionately calling "The Annexation of Puerto Rico" in Sunday's victory over the Houston Texans, the defense wasn't the only group caught off-guard.

"It was a shock to me when we called it, just like it was for y'all to see it," Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. "But we executed it and got a touchdown."

It came as a shock to Newton in part because, believe it or not, the Panthers had never actually run the play live.

"We just walked through it in practice, so that was our first time seeing it live," wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. "I never thought in a million years that play was going to work, let alone get a touchdown."

In case you somehow missed it, with a minute left in the first half and the Panthers at the Texans' 7-yard line, fullback Richie Brockel lined up next to Newton in a tighter-than-usual shotgun formation, with running back DeAngelo Williams and wide receiver Steve Smith set as deep backs behind them.

Newton took the snap and then inconspicuously handed the ball between the legs of Brockel, who didn't budge.

"I was trying to hide behind my offensive linemen," Brockel said, "but that's not easy because I'm so big."

Newton then spun and pretended to run an option play to the right, around which time Brockel took off around the left side untouched for a touchdown that gave the Panthers a 21-0 lead in their 28-13 victory.

"It was kind of awkward, but I got the snap and gave it to Brockel – I call him 'The Mauler,'" Newton said. "He deserves it. This guy is a warrior. He doesn't get a lot of recognition, but each and every play, we can count on him to do his job - go out and block, and he's happy with that. It's good to see guys like that get touchdowns."

Head coach Ron Rivera revealed the unofficial name of the play Monday, borrowed from the dramatic conclusion of the 1994 movie about youth football entitled "Little Giants."

Hate to give away the ending if you haven't seen it, but the basics are that with the game on the line in the final seconds, the Giants' preteen offensive coordinator dials up a play that he calls "The Annexation of Puerto Rico" on a sideline computer that looks suspiciously like a video monitor commonly used by production crews.
 
The quarterback takes the snap and then discreetly places the ball on the ground (illegal in the NFL, by the way), after which an 11-year-old Richie Brockel clone sneakily claims possession. He remains stationery while the quarterback fakes a reverse to a girl, then he takes off for the end zone, eventually tossing the ball over his head to a teammate who soon does the same thing.

The size of the ballcarrier shrinks like a Russian nesting doll with each lateral, with the smallest player on the field eventually (spoiler alert) scoring the winning touchdown.

The comparisons between the Panthers' play and the Little Giants play end there, though. The Little Giants ran the ball up the middle rather than to the left.

While the Panthers have taken to comparing the play to the one in the movie, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski actually brought the play with him from the San Diego Chargers. Five years ago, when Chudzinski was tight ends coach in San Diego, Chargers' fullback Lorenzo Neal scored a 4-yard touchdown on a strikingly similar play.

It was labeled the "Bumerooski" in honor of legendary coach Bum Phillips, the father of then-Chargers defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Wade Phillips is now the Texans' defensive coordinator, though he missed Sunday's game after taking a leave of absence for a medical issue.

Explained Rivera: "When got near the red zone, one of the coaches brought it up, saying, 'Are we at that point where we can use this play?' And Chud said, 'We're close.' When we got close to the 10-yard line, we sent the group in.

"The timing of it was perfect. We ran a play prior using the same personnel group, and we felt like if we came back to the line of scrimmage quickly, we could do that. It worked very well."

It wasn't the first time Sunday or the first time this month the Panthers have dug deep into the playbook. Earlier in the game, wide receiver Armanti Edwards completed an 11-yard pass out of the "Mountaineer" formation to Smith. Two weeks earlier at Tampa Bay, wide receiver Legedu Naanee completed a pass to Newton.

Rivera pointed out that the recent trick plays actually weren't high-risk endeavors: two pass plays featuring former college quarterbacks and in effect a fancy handoff to a fullback.

"I think it's just knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are for each of your players," Rivera said.

What could be next? Stay tuned to your local Panthers television station or movie channel.