It’s not often a team faces a must lose game.
But that’s exactly what the Indianapolis Colts had on their schedule Sunday in Buffalo. Colts President Bill Polian and Coach Jim Caldwell—who are getting most of the credit for the masterpiece against the N.Y. Jets on Dec. 27—must have been dancing a jig when the saw the frightful weather Sunday in Buffalo.
It was indeed a triumphant return to Buffalo for Polian, who has been adamant that resting players in the name of playoff preparation trumps a shot at history—the first team to go 19-0.
Polian looked pretty smart yesterday. After all, who wouldn’t argue that getting the team’s most prized possessions off a snow-covered field is smart.
Everyone in the Horseshoe Kingdom breathed a sigh of relief to see Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne sitting in coats and stocking caps in one piece on the sideline. The misfortune that visited New England Patriots wideout Wes Welker only served to reinforce that sense of relief. In the moment, tanking the Jets game suddenly looked like the right thing to do.
But had the Colts reserves managed to win in Buffalo, the hue and cry from Evansville to South Bend would have started anew; The Colts were a lousy 20 plus or minus minutes away from the perfect season! Against a mediocre team!! On their home field!!!
The Colts did Sunday exactly what they needed to do. Must lose indeed. Once they tanked the Jets game, the Colts had to stay on that course. Mission accomplished.
If you think the fan howling after last week’s game was a distraction, yikes, what would the run-up to the playoffs have been like had the Colts won in Buffalo. And players on the verge of mutiny last week, would have offered a few new death stares at Polian and Caldwell in the days heading into the playoffs.
Now, Polian looks like a genius who can not only put together a championship-caliber football team, but can predict the weather better than Punxsutawney Phil.
With the loss already on the books against the Jets, there was absolutely no pressure to play key starters in the snow at Buffalo. There’s no letdown this week from the Bills loss and really, comparatively little distraction.
But there’s this little side note. The fans haven’t really forgotten. Rightly or wrongly, there are seeds of doubt among the Kingdom’s faithful. Still uneasiness—perhaps even simmering hostility—about not pursuing perfection.
And clearly, if you watched the Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals play Sunday, it looked like they were fighting for a chance at that No. 4 seed and a shot at the Colts in the divisional round. Those two teams would seem to think the Colts are more ripe for the plucking than the red-hot San Diego Chargers.
So the switch is now flipped. The pressure is on again. It’s heating up in the locker room, the coaches’ stable, and especially in the quarters of the jockey steering this steed.
Because if the Colts lose before next season’s pre-season opener, the front line of this war will move from between the white lines onto the Colts’ sales and marketing team’s front doorstep.
And the ensuing stampede may be enough to make the snow storm in Buffalo look like a pony ride at the circus.