For those unaware, the Indianapolis Colts, coming into their game two weeks ago against the NY Jets, were 14-0, and looked like they could easily finish the season undefeated and have a legitimate shot to achieve football immortality by running the table and putting up a perfect 19-0 record. However, the Colts' goal is not an undefeated season, it's a Super Bowl Title, and having already locked up home field advantage throughout the playoffs, they had nothing to gain, so in an effort to ensure that none of their essential players suffered drastic injuries, Indy pulled their starters in the second half of the Jets game while holding a small lead, and promptly got blown out.
Now, there are arguments to be made on both sides here: go for the everlasting glory, vs play it safe and prepare for the playoffs. I'm torn, because I think that the physical abuse that professional football players withstand is simply remarkable, and I'm shocked that any lineman or running back can ever last a full season when every play involves a gang of very large men falling into your legs or trying to tackle him. I'm also aware of the legacy of sports records, especially amazing achievements, which a 19-0 season would certainly qualify as, and tend to want to go for it.
One thing is for sure: anyone yelling 4 letter words at Indy Coach Jim Caldwell for his decision to pull the starters two weeks ago lost a whole lot of their argument's heft when the Patriots' offensive weapon, Wes Welker, went down with what appears to be a torn ACL and MCL in the first quarter of the Pats' game against the Texans last weekend. Welker, untouched, cut with the ball and crumpled in a heap. It was quickly obvious that he was in serious trouble, and the first thing I did was call my dad and say "Well, I guess Jim Caldwell can tell his critics to "suck it!" The Patriot's game was not totally meaningless, although they had little to play for - but if something like that had happened to Indy's Reggie Wayne, we can only imagine the crap-storm of second guessing that would have rained down on Caldwell's head.
ESPN's Bill Simmons had a good solution:
"Take it from a Patriots fan: Going 16-0 is overrated. You want to win the Super Bowl. That's all that matters. So it didn't bother me that Indianapolis rested its starters last week against the Jets, even if it nearly caused a riot at Lucas Oil Stadium. What bothered me was Jim Caldwell's lack of imagination.
Now, it's unclear whether Jim Caldwell is even alive. I am assuming he is because I've seen him blink at least five times this season. And because he's alive, that means he made one of the most indefensible coaching blunders of all time: playing his starters for one half, but doing it in the FIRST half. How does that make sense?
Let's think about this logically. Say Caldwell's goal was to keep his starters healthy while also getting them some work. Playing them for one half would accomplish this goal, as we know. So two days before the game, Caldwell makes the following announcement: "I'm playing our backups in the first half. If they can keep it close, then I'll play my starters in the second half."
Now the fans know what to expect, and so do the players. Even better, this happens: The fans go into that game thinking, "We want to stay undefeated, we need to affect this game and help our backups!" And the starters are on the sideline urging them along. Come on, fellas! Keep it close for us! A "Hoosiers"-like atmosphere is spawned. Everyone rallies behind the ragtag underdogs, who end up playing over the heads and keeping it close. At the start of the third quarter, Peyton Manning and the starters jog out with the stadium going bonkers. Would the Jets have had a chance? No way."
CNNSI's Peter King also had some on point comments regarding the fact that the Colts trotted out their starters again this week for some personal milestone statistical records:
"I think if records don't matter much to the Colts, why did Indianapolis play Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark only long enough to get to 100 catches? It's fine that they did; I want a player to want to leave his footprints on NFL history. But to say Reggie Wayne or Dallas Clark catching 100 balls, or to say the record of consecutive regular-season wins by a team, is more significant to a franchise than becoming the first team ever to go 19-0 (and only the second team in modern pro football history to go undefeated for an entire season) is just flat wrong. And that's what the Colts have said.
This is likely my last word on the Colts' decision to bypass the chance to go for the unbeaten season, but I couldn't let president Bill Polian's comments to Rich Eisen on NFL Network the other night pass without a challenge. Polian said the perfect season "we did not feel was a historic achievement.'' But, Polian said, winning more games than any team in a decade, and winning the most consecutive regular-season games are "historical milestones that were worth going out there and risking everything for.''
I categorically disagree those milestone are more significant than 19-0. In my mind, they're not even close. Every football fan knows there's been only one 17-0 team, Miami in 1972, and never a team better than that. No football fan can tell you (with certainty anyway), nor does any football fan care, which team won the most games in the eighties, or nineties. The consecutive regular-season wins are certainly nice, but it's not imprinted on the brain stem of any football fan. Now, 19-0 ... that's immortality right there. And if you don't want to go for it because you don't want to risk injury, please say that. But to say it has no historical significance -- as Jimmy Johnson would say, "Puh-leeeeze.''
I was shocked to see Indy starting its starters again this week (for a few drives) given that it was snowing in Buffalo, which seemed to be guaranteed to carry a higher risk of injury than a dry field. King's comments nicely summarize the inconsistency in Indy's reasoning.