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It’s not 4th and 2 with Bill Belichick earlier this season, but Jim Caldwell’s philosophy of packing it in or pulling an ‘83-’84 Houston Rockets manuever, during Sunday’s 29-15 loss to the New York Jets has caused a tremendous amount of discussion. When Peyton Manning was pulled early on in the second half while Indy held a 15-10 lead, it appeared that the Colts were cashing in their chips a bit too soon and in turn, greatly impacting the AFC playoff picture.
The philosophy of keeping the foot on the gas versus “resting” guys is one that gets played out every single year. At least one team in the conference is faced with this decision and invariable, it appears someone always gets it terribly wrong. Throwing a perfect season in the mix adds another level to this mess.
In the case of Indianapolis, they have recent history around the league and within its on franchise to draw from. Let’s be realistic for a moment. The Colts have won one Super Bowl this decade. One. Not two. Not three. Not four. One. Thus, their philosophy of resting Peyton Manning and others because they might get injured has not exactly paid off handsomely.
Their lone Super Bowl win of the decade came through wild-card weekend as a three-seed. Also, they played the starters to the hilt during the regular season’s final game against Miami.
The last time Indy entered the postseason with home-field advantage in 2005, the Colts came out rusty and flat before losing a last-second battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoffs.
Two years later, Indy did not go to the wall again in the season finale against Tennessee, a 16-10 loss. A couple of weeks later, they lost in their opening playoff game once more, this time to the San Diego Chargers.
Further complicating matters is finishing up the regular season 16-0. The Indy party line from team president Bill Polian was that it didn’t matter and that it wasn’t the ultimate goal (a sentiment shared on NBC Sunday night by former Colts head coach Tony Dungy). It was rather obvious by watching the postgame interviews and reading accounts out of Indianapolis that some of the players cared.
Now, I don’t know about you but Peyton Manning strikes me as a fairly competitive soul. Don’t you think he wants to match Tom Brady and the Patriots by going 16-0? Much like Bird’s Celtics had Magic’s Lakers and now, Manning’s Colts have Brady’s Patriots.
Again, as a historical reference, the Patriots decided to go for the perfect season instead of resting starters back in 2007. While they didn’t finish off the mission by winning Super Bowl XLII, they defeated the Giants to finish the regular season 16-0. Belichick honored the game by at least going for it.
Some theorized that the Pats were too tired from pursuing perfection which is why they failed to go 19-0. Did making an effort to go 16-0 make Rodney Harrison incapable of breaking up David Tyree’s helmet catch? Did Asante Samuel’s interception drop on the same drive have a tie-in with Belichick and company going for history? I don’t think so but it sounds good for those conspiracy theory types.
Killer instinct, edge, or whatever you want to call it is important. Teams go too long without playing meaningful games heading into the postseason and it gets them into trouble (see ’07 Bucs). The Colts, who have shown time and time again that taking the foot off the gas is a mistake, simply are determined to do it their way.
Their way simply put has not been the right way.