Local fans, national media rip Colts' lack of courage

December 27, 2009
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The boo birds were out in force Sunday, raining down for the first time this season on the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. And according to almost every national media outlet, the home team deserved it.
Hard telling what’s going through the minds of Colts coaches and administrators playing marionette master during the New York Jets game, but from the paying customers’ and casual observers’ view, it looked for all the world like the Colts threw the game. Yes, threw the game.

Colts President Bill Polian and Coach Jim Caldwell are smart guys. You can’t tell me they couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen when they benched all-world quarterback Peyton Manning and replaced him with a deer in the headlights. Really, you can’t blame Curtis Painter for what happened. The results were predictable.

The only upside to the Colts’ loss to the anemic New York Jets is that Manning’s class was on display once again for all the world to see. Instead of throwing Caldwell and Polian to the wolves waiting at the post-game press conference, Manning again played the part of a good soldier. Someone might want to send Brett Favre the tape.

Other than that, I see many, many downsides to this loss. Let’s start with the obvious.

If you know Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay at least a little, you know they are both students of the game with a great knowledge of the history of this game and a healthy dose of respect for the men who forged this league on the field, from the sidelines and through team ownership.

In other words, they understand well the historical significance of a perfect season. That breeze you felt was a rare opportunity to make history whizzing by. It was strong enough to turn the three inches of snow that fell outside Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday into a blizzard.

That shot at history will pain Polian just as much, but since it’s his philosophy to rest players at all costs, his pain won’t be felt until much later. He’s much too busy preparing a defense for his and Caldwell’s decision to feel that pain now. But in time, it will sting as much as those Super Bowl losses in Buffalo. Yes, as much as wide right.

Because here’s the deal. If the Colts lose in the playoffs, the pundits will say the momentum began to fade from the Colts run during the Jets game. And that’s enough to make even a very confident man wonder about his decisions.

The prospect of going into the playoffs on a two-game slide isn’t appealing to anyone. But since the Colts’ brass is committed to resting players, that’s exactly what they’re facing.

The Colts brass like to talk about looking at the big picture, so let’s do that.

Let’s start with Peyton Manning’s place in the history of this game. Former Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka said Walter Payton never would have come out of the game in a similar situation. But wait, Manning is a good soldier. Is that all the historians will say about him? This isn't just about Manning. Did you read the body language of the Colts' other 52 players on the sideline Sunday? It looked like the sort of posture that could carry over. But I'm no psychologist.
Remember, this is a team game and all that matters is winning the Super Bowl, right? A Super Bowl triumph could make this loss really sting Colts players and faithful followers in the long-run.
A decade or two from now when the cheering has long ended and the Colts are left alone with their thoughts and feelings, there’s this to ponder if the team wins the Super Bowl.
What might have been? If the team had the courage to go for perfection, oh what might have been? Let’s say the Colts manage to beat the lowly Buffalo Bills next week, rip through the playoffs; nail the Bengals and Chargers and beat the NFC champ and win the Super Bowl.

There won’t be a person affiliated with the team that in time won’t ask, what might have been had the Colts had the courage to seek what no team has ever achieved: 19-0.
Instead, the pressure is off. There will be no questions this week about who will play and how long. The target on the Colts’ collective back is now much smaller.
Sunday, the Colts chose a familiar route. One they’ve traveled before.
Safe, yes.
Smart? We’ll see.
Cowardly? Well that might be just a bit strong.
Just a bit.

Stay tuned. Next, I’ll explore the business opportunities lost with this loss to the Jets. And there were many. To read more about that, click here.

  • ugh
    I just spent $550 taking my family to a Colts game, 2 for the first time ever.

    What a rip-off.They'll never sell me another ticket.

    Chargers are going to get 'em again.
    • ...Sounded Like A Freight Train
      I am anything but football literate, but anyone with a feel for the history of this great football team... well you could hear this train wreck comming for the last week. You can talk about Monday morning quarterbackin', or damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Never-the-less, this has the feel of the Super Bowl XL run, more than when we had to claw & pass our way to the top of Super Bowl XLI. Fortunately, the Colts brain trust has a much better smarts record than I do... so in the end ~ Go Colts!
    • who won
      Who won the 73 superbowl? Who Won the 74 superbowl? But we all know what the dolphins did. This team could be the greatest of all time if they win out. But no we cant say that cause they gave this one away.
    • Colts threw the game
      I feel bad that you spent $550 to see the Colts THROW the game like that. There are probably 10,000's people feeling like you.
      I'm a Browns fan and the Colts laid down against the Titans back in '07 and my team missed the playoffs cauz they wanted to "rest" the best players.. I hope whoever plays the Colts in the playoffs, kicks their a**
    • Colts
      From where I sit, the guy in charge of the team on the field, Caldwell, is not deserving of a head coach position. He should be fired for that debacle yesterday. Way to throw Painter under the bus, Caldwell! Nevermind that he may not be ready (duh) or even a legit NFL QB? But to throw him to the number 1 defense in a game like this???

      Caldwell is as much out of his league as Painter was yesterday. If this is the way this team feels about potential perfection and not doing their best each and every Sunday, then I may opt out of even caring. It hurts too much to see what was accomplished and what could have been accomplished flushed down the the toilet in one game.

      Way to embarass the team, the players and the city of Indianapolis, Caldwell. Hope you're proud. Your demeanor on the sideline just sums it up. You are the deer in the headlights!
      • If Polian's so dang smart...
        ...how come he's only won one more Super Bowl than I have?
      • Asterick
        This season will always have an asterick by it for the Colts. Not even a Super Bowl championship will take that away. In fact, it will just make it worse in years to come.
        • I attended the game and was disapointed by what happened. I felt if Caldwell had left the 1st string in for one more series, we could have had a 22 to 10 lead and not put Painter in on the 10 yard line.

          But I saw at least 5 Jets players laying on the field after plays, and each time thought that could be Adai, Collie, Wayne, Freeney or God forbid Peyton. What would we be talking about today if Peyton had endured a career ending injury in a game that does not matter?

          If the Colts played all their starters all the way through and we lose the Superbowl, the naysayers will say we did not rest them. If we rest them and lose, the naysayers will say we should have played them. If we went 18-1, the naysayers will say we should have learned from the Pats. Heck, I have heard some who said we should not have clinched homefield at all saying we should have fought to the last game.

          All in all, we are all experts in our own mind. But there is only one guy who took a train wreck in the late 90's and turned it into the winningest team of any decade. How many times have the "experts" questioned Polians decisions? Peyton over Leaf? Trade Faulk? Edgerin over Ricky William? Who the hell had ever heard of Collie? Wayne? Garcon? etc....? I am willing to give Polian the benefit of the doubt.

          Before we slit our wrists and swear to never attend/watch another Colts game, lets all remember, we ar 14-1. The road to the Superbowl rolls through Indy and we have a good chance to return to Miami to win another Superbowl.

          I have to disagree with Anthony, a Superbowl win will make everyone forget how we got there, a loss no matter how we got there will bring out the second guessers.
        • Colts
          Wrong, Indyman. Caldwell gets the accolades all season. Fittingly, he alone deserves the blame. Any sport should be played be the best available. No game means nothing. If that were the case, why didn't Painter et all start? Fans, players, all deserved this team playing for all the marbles all the time.

          Who in the heck started this resting bull anyway? You are right about Peyton needing to play another series. But I still say, why would a "supposed" coach start a third string q/b in a game against the best defense when that games is a must win for them? Since Caldwell threw Painter under the bus, perhaps he (Caldwell) deserves the next bus ride out of town. Good riddance!
        • Caldwell
          Perhaps Caldwell should hereafter always be referred to as Courageless Caldwell.

        • How Could You?
          I live in Cincinnati and since the Bengals usually suck I always adopt the Colts during the playoffs. Payton Manning is also my favorite player. Anyway, I can't believe they gave up on a chance to make history. As some others have said, there's a super bowl winner every year, but only one team in history has won them all, and the Colts had a chance and threw it away. I have never routed against the Colts but will consider doing it this year. And if the Bengals lay down against the Jets this weekend I'll be just as pissed at them... Come on NFL, quit cheating the fans!
        • He made a decision
          Whether you like it or not, Coach Caldwell had the courage to make the decision he felt was right. If Manning or Reggis or Dallas had gotten hurt, you same people lambasting his the decision not to play them would have said even worse in that case. Coach is focused on success. Remember the last team that had an undefeated season??? How did they do in the Super Bowl?
        • Colts 1st Stringers Blew It
          The Colts should have had at least a 2 touchdown lead before the half. Peyton made some bad throws; Clark missed some good ones; and that kickoff return for 106 yards?!?!?!? If they had played to their potential in the first half, it would have been a different story in the second.
        • Someone else said...
          ...guys get hurt in "games that count", guys get hurt in practice, guys get hurt when they don't even get hit (Anthony Gonzalez). It's football: guys get hurt.

          Play to freakin' win. Whatever happened to that "play 60 minutes of football" stuff? Looked to me as if the Colts played about 38; I didn't really want to see a preseason game at the end of December.
        • garbage
          That injury excuse is garbage, and this is why. The NY Giants two years ago played the Patriots on the last game of the season. The Giants were in the playoffs and had nothing to gain by winning. But they played full tilt, and lost their center for the remainder of the season during that game. I think we can all agree that center is a pretty important position. But by going full tilt, the Giants built up momentum and moxy during the game that carried them to a Super Bowl championship. You play to win the game! Thank you for that, Herm!!
        • Who's the MVP???
          I've never heard of a center being named the NFL MVP. Manning is definitely, by far, the MVP of the NFL this year. If this game did nothing else, it proved that. IF he had gotten hurt in that game, the Colts wouldn't even get one win in the playoffs, and you with your bruised egos would have had to watch another team strut their stuff.
        • Implications
          If a game has playoff implications neither team should tank it. I believe that is the unwritten rule. The Colts have broken that rule twice..
        • What Would Lombardi Think?
          Here's what Vince Lombardi had to say about winning:

          "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

          "There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that's first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay, and I don't ever want to finish second again. There is a second place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers. It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win, and to win, and to win.

          "Every time a football player goes to ply his trade he's got to play from the ground up - from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their heads. That's O.K. You've got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you've got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body. If you're lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he's never going to come off the field second.

          "Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization - an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same. The object is to win - to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don't think it is.

          "It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That's why they are there - to compete. To know the rules and objectives when they get in the game. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules - but to win.

          "And in truth, I've never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn't appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat.

          "I don't say these things because I believe in the 'brute' nature of man or that men must be brutalized to be combative. I believe in God, and I believe in human decency. But I firmly believe that any man's finest hour - his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear - is that moment when he has to work his heart out in a good cause and he's exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."

          --Vince Lombardi
        • Pressure is now ON!
          Love the column but I must say, there is MORE pressure now to win it all because anything less will be a total failure. At least had they gone undefeated and then lost in the playoffs, at least we could say we played TO WIN THE game and I mean every game. It was a lose, lose situation because even if we do win, there will always be the what if we had not thrown the Jets game! We will just go down as another team that won a Super Bowl. Bill Polian has never won a Super Bowl when he rested players! 0-8!
        • Idiots...
          Have we not learned our lesson from the Dungy era about resting our players!? I really don't understand. I don't get it. It's all about who has the momemtum at the END of the season. Who cares that we have won 14 games if we head into the playoffs losing two in a row. We would have more championship rings if Polian wasn't such an idiot. That is the truth. Bottom line.

          Peyton Manning makes the Colts who they are. Not Polian, not Caldwell, not Dungy, not anyone else. It is Peyton Manning. Bottom line. And I hate hearing, "What if he would have been injured." Peyton hasn't been injured his entire career.

          I really want to hear a good reason why we are sitting our players. Until then, Polian and Caldwell, you are idiots!!
        • Are we talking about practice?
          Mikalos, Stay reality based. Peyton rarely takes hits and has never missed a game. If you're playing the odds by resting Manning, you are playing them wrong. He is just as likely to get hurt slipping in the shower. Doug Fields, I couldn't agree with you more. The Colts plan has completely backfired. They totally turned the heat up on themselves ... and completely underestimated the reaction of their fans. Lose, lose indeed. Oh, what this team has already lost. I'm praying Polian's record doesn't slip to 0-9.
        • a week late
          If they had done this last week, after clinching everything, I would have just shaken it off and said whatever. However, they rested guys last week by playing them sparingly. I thought that was smart. We rest guys but still try to win. If we don't win, well at least we gave it some effort, but the second half of this game was a horrible move. I am baffled why you play most of your guys one week when it didn't matter and the next week you don't? It wouldn't be a big deal except for the history they had a chance to make. I think the players and the fans were willing to take the chance of injuries to accomplish this. N.E. isn't my favorite team but I have to applaud them for trying. The last time we rested players we ended on a 4 game losing streak. Bah Humbug
        • Train Wreck???
          The Colts had made the playoffs 2 of the 3 years prior to Polian arriving and were a first down away from the Super Bowl in one of them. The franchise was not a train wreck because of the immediately preceding season's bad record. IndyMan seems a little lost which is probably why almost everyone seems to disagree with the Colts decision except him. What the Colts did is an injustice to the other teams fighting for the playoffs, every Colts fan, the NFL, and all of their players that have a heart.

          The Colts have won a ton of games this decade, true. It will be a shame if they can only muster one Super Bowl out of it. The Patriots will still be seen as the team of the decade. I hate to say that because I can't stand them, but it is true.

          Polian gets so much credit, but he still only has one Super Bowl to his credit. He has done very well, but his teams have generally come up short. The Vince Lombardi quote was so appropriate and Polian should take it to heart.

          The real shame will be if arguably the best quarterback in the league's history only ends up with one Super Bowl win because the team's management is full of prima donnas.
        • Hindsight is 20/20
          I, too, was torn yesterday between the decision. The thought of Manning, Wayne, Clark, or others injured is infathomable and imagine what we'd be saying to Caldwell today? However, in hindsight, I wish we would have gone for it for a couple reasons: 1) the '72 Dolphins live in infamy; 2) the '07 Patriots will always be remembered; 3) the Colts historically have not played as well after having been rested; and 4) without a SuperBowl win, what would a 17-2 season be worth? -- not nearly as much as an 18-1 season like the Pats had. And lastly, 5) imagine a SuperBowl win -- you'll always wonder if we could have been the first at 19-0... and that will haunt indefinitely.
        • Another blow to pro sports
          Is this whatââ?¬â?¢s itââ?¬â?¢s come to? We have banks that are ââ?¬Å?too big to failââ?¬Â? and pro players that are ââ?¬Å?too important to playââ?¬Â?. Where is the integrity to professional sports? What about the team that doesnââ?¬â?¢t make it into the playoffs because the Colts threw the game? How is that fair to them? Some team out there needed the Jets to lose, and they got robbed by the Colts forfeiting in the 3rd quarter? The whole integrity of the system is compromised if every team doesnââ?¬â?¢t play to win every game.
          Caldwell has tarnished his image forever in this city, even if they do win a super bowl this year. I say get a coach with the courage to play the game. Caldwell is living of rep of the team built by Dungy. I think we see what he will do when he has to make a real decision on his own. Cower, hide, play not to lose. My prediction? Colts lose in the 2nd round this year.
        • Please
          Get a clue. Caldwell has won the most games in a row to start a career in the history of the league. This happens all the time in the NFL..All the time. And it won't stop happening. You think SD will play Rivers or LT every snap next Sunday?
        • missing the point
          G, you're missing the historical significance of this. This is the FIRST time a team that has opened up 14-0 lost its 15th game, let alone all but thrown the game. This doesn't happen all the time, and Rivers would pitch a fit if Norv Turner tried to bench him in the same circumstance. Maybe Peyton should take a page out of Favre's book rather than the other way around. And yes, Caldwell for the first time in his career is getting the glare of a critical eye, and deservedly so. His actions were those of a rookie coach with zero understanding of the significance of this moment. Welcome to the white hot spot light of the NFL, Coach Caldwell.
        • IF....IF.....IF
          Stop with the what if they get hurt...then don't play sports. Players can get hurt anytime, and many play even when they are hurt. Now that all the Colts have not getting hurt on their minds, INSTEAD OF WINNING, they will lose and some will get hurt. This is a call by a non sports personnel.
        • got the point

          This is Polian's baby. Caldwell may be a rookie head coach but he is just following his boss' directive and this isn't Polian's first rodeo. Peyton wanted to be in the game that much was obvious...but what kind of leadership would it show if he were to ignore his coaches orders? You don't want to undermine the head coach with the amount of young players on the team.
        • Lame Excusde
          The Perfect 1972 Dolphins didn't have their number 1 quarterback for a large part of the season...
        • maybe throw it away on the road
          I can see maybe throwing away game 16 on the road after winning #15 at home. But to throw #15 away like that at home? That's a snub to the paying fans and the city of Indianapolis, and surely to the players whose exasperated faces said it all. Also, let's not forget that the management not only took Peyton out, but they also took out the ace receivers! That left Painter to face the second stringers on the receiving end. The press is downplaying that travesty.
        • We chose to lose
          Just a couple of points:

          1) We absolutely chose to lose to the Jets, and we'll do the exact same thing this Sunday to the Buffalo Bills. And we'll be as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs when we'll take the first week off and then lose either the first round game or, for sure, the second round game, because we'll have essentially taken a couple of weeks off and let the rust get to us. Do I have to remind anyone how rusty Peyton was at the start of the '08 season? Right, I know; that's not going to happen again.

          The other point is that, while it was great for Curtis Painter to get a chance to play Sunday, what the hell do we think we did for his confidence going forward putting him in to QB a team when we've got the ball at the 10-yard line against the NFL's best defense? If we wanted to absolutely ruin the kid, we couldn't have picked a better way to do it than what Caldwell and Polian did. Stupid, absolutely stupid.

          We chose to lose the chance to make history. And it would only have taken a few more series to nail it down. Absolutely cowardly and stupid.

          The NFL should institute a rule that if a team lays down the way the Colts did, they pay back everyone who bought a ticket to attend the game. It certainly wasn't worth my $100+ per ticket to watch that crap in the 2nd half.
        • I think IU just proved the Colts right. Leading by 30 points over a winless team in a fairly meaningless non conference game, their star player and bright spot broke his knee cap in a routine play. Most likely out for the season, and possibly longer (knee caps are not easy to heal). Could have been Peyton, Wayne or Freeney in the 4th quarter of the Jets game or in the Buffalo game next week.

          People talk about rust, Peyton and crew were pretty rusty in the Jets game.
        • concur
          I could not agree more. Even a Superbowl win will not make this bitter pill easier to swallow. In fact, a Superbowl win will just taste sour because of what might have been.
        • Lose-Lose
          Polian has put the team in a lose-lose situation.

          If they win the Super Bowl, as Schoettle's column points out, it will forever be remembered as a "what if" situation.

          If they DON'T win the Super Bowl, the decision to rest the starters will be seen as pointless.

          Either way, the better decision was to play the starters and strive for history.

          If, as the Colts brass proclaims, a perfect season was never one of their goals, then I say their goals were set too low to begin with. Shame on them.
        • Get over it
          Comparing this decision (that was clearly coming) to the Bills Super Bowl losses is insulting to Buffalo. Quit crying Indianapolis.
        • Buffalo an insult to itself
          Buffalo is an insult to itself. We clearly have different standards here in Indy. So beat it. And I hope you're enjoying your Terrel Owens jersey. They'll be on sale half price in a week or two.

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