With this in mind, it should come as no surprise to me what happened yesterday afternoon. After starting the season 14-0, with home field advantage clinched through the playoffs, all of the personal milestones achieved (50,000 career passing yards, fyi), the Colts once again decide to bench all of their starters with about 6 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. They were leading 15-10 at the time, with every indication that they were likely to defeat the New York Jets. But then they just gave up.
Peyton Manning grimaced on the sidelines, pleading to his Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore to let him come back into the game. Reggie Wayne sat quietly on the bench simmering in disgust. Gary Brackett shakes his head in disbelief as the backup scrubs squander what could have been a perfect season.
Head Coach Jim Caldwell claims after the game that going 16-0 was never the focus of the regular season. Their true purpose is winning the Superbowl. Not just going to the SB but winning it. And I whole heartedly agree. If dropping the last two games of a season to keep players healthy guaranteed a victory on February 7, do it. Too bad it rarely works out.
This is nothing new. Jim Mora did it. Tony Dungy did it. And now Caldwell does it. Every season the Colts have everything wrapped up, they ALWAYS bench their starters. This team is so dependent on Peyton Manning, the fear that he would be injured in a meaningless regular season game overrides any collateral achievement in a record book.
What make this worse is that Manning, Wayne, and Brackett are the Colts’ veterans. Two of these players are team captains. The younger players look to them for leadership, example, and stability. To see them visibly upset on the sidelines does not help team morale. Though they won’t publically say it, the players are silently second guessing the coaches. You could see it on their faces during the fourth quarter on yesterday’s embarrassment. They wanted to go out and win, but they weren’t allowed.
All of the Colts’ momentum from the last 23 games is erased. History demonstrates that sitting out two or three regular season games, plus the Wildcard Bye makes the Colts stale. I predict that the Colts will come out cold, falling behind early in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Hopefully their skill level will allow them to pull back into it, but their intensity will certainly be diminished.
(Ironically, the only time in recent history that the Colts didn’t have every wrapped up was in2006. They had to play right up through Week 17 of the regular season, just to obtain the 3rd seed in the playoffs. They had a horrific run defense that year, and faced Larry Johnson in the first round. They remained red-hot from the regular season though, and shut down the Chiefs, then the Ravens and Patriots en route to their first SB victory since moving to Indianapolis.)