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.
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.