Unabated to the Quarterback, Week 16: Don’t quit, don’t even quit

“For where there is no battle there is no life.”

—F.W.J. Schelling

I had that quote all set up to use at halftime of the Giants-Panthers debacle (which we’ll get to later) before realizing that it would work even better for what transpired in that other New York football team’s game.

For many, the signature play of the Indianapolis Colts’ decade did not take place in their overwhelmingly forgettable Super Bowl XLI win over the Bears;* rather, it was in the 2004 Divisional Playoff game in New England, when Dominic Rhodes had the ball ripped out of his hands by Tedy Bruschi. “They don’t want it!” Bruschi yelled, pointing to the ball as he jogged to the sidelines.

*To substantiate my “overwhelmingly forgettable” claim: What was the score? Who really deserved MVP? What was the key play, and who made it?

That has long been the perception about the Indianapolis Colts: They don’t want it as much as New England or San Diego. On Sunday afternoon in Lucas Oil Stadium, Jim Caldwell proved all the doubters true. In pulling Peyton Manning and several of his starters from the second half of a tight game with the New York Jets, Caldwell—and it should be noted that the coach was simply acting under the orders of GM Bill Polian—took the coward’s way out.

You don’t even need to play the “disrespecting the integrity of the game” card with what the Colts did on Sunday—although I will, later. Haven’t we learned by now that resting your starters isn’t a great idea? Polian did it in Buffalo; he lost four Super Bowls. In Indy, the only year the Colts won the Super Bowl was the year they didn’t rest Manning and Co. late in the year. If this decade has shown us anything, it’s that hitting your stride at the right time is the key to the postseason: Teams that peak early (see: 2008 Tennessee Titans and 2008 New York Giants and 2005 Indianapolis Colts) have consistently lost to teams peaking at the right time (read: 2008 Arizona Cardinals and 2007 New York Giants and 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers).

Furthermore, it’s Week 16! You’re going to rest these guys this week, again next week, then have a bye week, and then expect them to come out and play crisply on January 17? The Colts will go an entire month between games they tried to win; just ask the Big Ten how that’s worked in their BCS games. The last team to rest its starters in Week 16 and win the Super Bowl was the 2001 New England Patriots, and they rested their starters because Week 16 was a bye week for them. Before that? Well, there’s only so much time one can spend on Pro Football Reference.

Football is not basketball or baseball where coasting through parts of a game is tenable; it relies much more on emotion, effort, and dedication. You can’t turn that off for three weeks and expect it to run smoothly right away in the playoffs. And since when was resting guys the best way to get ready for the postseason–or any game? Hey Peyton, I know you like to throw before games, but we don’t want you getting tired. Best not warm up for this one today. Just wing it; it’ll be fun.

But it’s true, you don’t want to endanger the health of a guy that has never missed a start in 12 years; I mean, dude is due.

And now back to the issue of integrity: It’s not about affecting the playoff race (helping out the Jets at the expense of the Broncos and Ravens and Texans and Dolphins–teams the Colts are 5-0 against this season). If it is, well, Indy has been doing that for years the last couple weeks of the season. It’s that going 16-0 means something in the NFL; it is not a historical footnote, not even for the Patriots team that lost in the Super Bowl in 2007. For Caldwell and the Colts to pretend that it’s not an issue at all is to ignore the sport’s history and their potential legacy.  Winning a second Super Bowl in four seasons would be nice but barely noteworthy in the sport’s recordbook; going 19-0 to do so would immediately qualify the Colts for any and all discussions of the best team ever. Furthermore, to end that quest in this manner–by essentially quitting–will invariably undercut the accomplishment if they do indeed win the Lombardi Trophy. Caldwell can say, “It worked” about his decision all he wants in February, but deep down he, the fans, and every member of his team will wonder “What if.” What if we had actually tried against the Jets? What if we had won that game and the next to go 16-0? What if we had finished 19-0?

As far as I see it, though, Indianapolis likely won’t have to worry about hypotheticals. In abandoning the quest to go 19-0, the Colts probably reduced their shot at a Super Bowl, as well. Ignore history at your own peril, Indy.

  • It was nice to see the mainstream media deservedly jump on the Colts, much like it did when Bill Belichick went for it on 4th-and-2 in Indianapolis so many weeks ago. So where was the fervor last week when Mike Tomlin made the unconscionable decision to onside kick with less than four minutes left and a two-point lead? How was this not lampooned as the dumbest coaching move ever? Green Bay got the ball (because the Steelers touched it too early) and scored with just over two minutes to play to take the lead. And if the Packers had been smart, they would have run more time off the clock before giving the ball back (they did, after all, only need a field goal to win). Just because Ben Roethlisberger happened to find Mike Wallace in the end zone on the final play of the game doesn’t make Tomlin’s decision any smarter. James Walker at ESPN called it “curious.” Curious? Curious is Jim having a second cup of coffee on the plane when he doesn’t at home. That’s like calling Jack Ripper’s apocalyptic plot to counter the Soviets’ corruption of our precious bodily fluids “curious.” It was insane, okay? And just because it all worked out in the end doesn’t make it okay.
  • Other issue with the mainstream media, which hurts because I like guys named Tim: In his column following that Giants-Panthers debacle (that, to me, is the only noun that suffices), NY Daily News’ Tim Smith writes that after Big Blue’s effort—or lack thereof—“you can officially declare [the Super Bowl title in 2007] a fluke.” Because that’s exactly what I thought when Mario Manningham fumbled that ball in the first quarter; it was such a fluke when he played so well for us in 2007. Oh wait, that was Michigan. Or when Michaels Boley and Johnson missed all those tackles on Jonathan Stewart? It’s crazy that they made those tackles for the Giants two years ago! Oh wait, Boley played for Atlanta and Johnson was a rookie third-string safety. If Smith had bothered to go back three years to a very similar Week 16 home loss by the Giants (30-7 to New Orleans), he may have been able to make a case that perhaps the “new” Tom Coughlin has outlived its welcome just like the old one had by the end of that ’06 season, when the Giants were clearly not trying. But nah, he just decided to use a nostalgic Harry Carson quote where he complains that, in his day, players had pride. Very insightful.
  • Will the Colts even be favored at home against the Chargers in the AFC Championship game?
  • I do think we learned that, if Peyton Manning were to get hurt, Curtis Painter probably isn’t the answer as a backup. (And yeah, you’re SOOO concerned about Manning getting hurt now, but you didn’t do anything to replace Jim Sorgi at backup?)
  • Interesting thing about this Week 17: A lot of division winners are playing teams they may run into again one week later in Wild Card Weekend. A Jets win over the Bengals mean the two will play a rematch in Cincinnati in the postseason. The Cardinals-Packers and Eagles-Cowboys are on pace to meet both this weekend and on Wild Card Weekend. And it’s still possible the Pats and Texans can double up in the next two weeks. Will this change how the Bengals et al play, causing them to limit the playbook? Or do those teams want to avoid giving the underdog a psychological advantage heading into the playoffs, knowing they can beat them?
  • More mainstream media criticism: In assessing the AFC Playoff Picture, Mike Wilbon said he likes the Steelers to get in because of how they’re playing now. Not only does this overlook that Pittsburgh is a last-second TD pass from Roethlisberger and a dropped TD pass from Derrick Mason from being on a seven-game losing streak, but it misses the more obvious point that Pittsburgh does not control its own destiny. Unless Wilbon thinks the Steelers are playing SO well that the Raiders and Chiefs will beat Baltimore and Denver for them, respectively.
  • Saints-Vikings doesn’t look so set in stone now, does it? I’m pretty sure the Eagles will be playing in the NFC Championship…again.
  • Why they should expand the NFL Playoffs: Carolina could do a lot of damage, right?
  • Why they shouldn’t expand the NFL Playoffs: Should the AFC even have Wild Cards this season?
  • This season, the Seahawks have won shutouts by 28 and 41—and lost games by 24, 21, 27, and 38.
  • The Jaguars still have an outside shot at making the playoffs, and if they do, they’ll be the worst playoff team ever. Bar none. They will be worse than the hypothetical playoff team from the American League West during the strike-shortened 1994 Major League Baseball season. Jacksonville’s Pythagorean is 5.2-9.8. They lost to 5-10 Seattle by 41. They beat 1-14 St. Louis by three in overtime at home. They beat 3-12 Kansas City and 5-10 Buffalo by a combined six points at home.
  • I’m really rooting against the Falcons just so that whole “Atlanta has never had two consecutive winning seasons” thing holds true until at least 2011.
  • Jets Bash of the Week: Do they award complete victories when the other team forfeits? Shouldn’t that be some type of partial credit?
  • SBCS: Indy, New Orleans, San Diego, Philly, Minnesota.

5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by doc on December 29, 2009 at 8:48 PM

    Peyton Manning was spotted later the night of the Colts first lost still wearing his helmet when he went to bed.


  2. uhhh…..that’s “loss”…maybe I should just redact that comment for being just too plain silly.


  3. […] fact, going undefeated was so passé that Indianapolis didn’t think it was worth it last […]


  4. […] followed by regular season games between non-playoff teams. This is why teams do things like rest players in Week 16 instead of trying to go undefeated, and why great players take games off, and why regular season records don’t tell the whole story […]


  5. […] followed by regular season games between non-playoff teams. This is why teams do things like rest players in Week 16 instead of trying to go undefeated, and why great players take games off, and why regular season records don’t tell the whole story […]


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