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Colts ready to focus on playoffsPosted Thursday, January 7, 2010, at 5:00 PM
It seems like everyone in the sports world -- fans and pundits alike -- had an opinion on the Indianapolis Colts resting starters the last game and a half of the regular season and shunning a shot at perfection and making history. So I guess it is only natural that I, being a Colts fan long before the days of quarterback Peyton Manning and 12-plus wins per season, chime in with my two cents.
Unlike most of the fans who were disappointed that the Colts, who entered the home game Dec. 27 against the New York Jets with a perfect 14-0, did not try to stay unbeaten, I can honesty say I was not.
In fact, before the game I said I would trade a loss to Jets for a second Super Bowl championship in four seasons on Feb. 7 in Miami. To me, a 16-0 season would mean less and sting even more if we don't win it all.
As ironic as it might seem, I happened to be in attendance, thanks to my friend Rich, a lifelong Jets' fan, just a little more than a week ago when the Colts turned a 15-10 lead into a 29-15 loss after pulling the starters in the third quarter.
As I recall someone saying, fans were kidding themselves if they believed the Colts were not going to take the foot off of the gas pedal sometime and rest their starters, especially after clinching home-field advantage. Being a top-seed or playing at home in January has not always proved to be an advantage for Indy in playoffs other than not having to play in blizzard-like conditions like yesterday in a 30-7 loss at Buffalo on the regular-season finale.
Admittedly the timing was less than ideal last Sunday, especially after the Colts seemed to throw caution to the wind 10 days before in their comeback victory at Jacksonville, a game that was just as meaningless as the Jets game to Indy's playoff seeding. As former Jets and Chiefs coach Herm Edwards is famous for saying, "You play to win the game." but you also have to prepare for the next game at the same time.
Indianapolis fans have loved what Colts' architect Bill Polian has done to put together this team -- that has won 12-plus games in an NFL record seven consecutive seasons. After losing linebacker Cornelius Bennett to injury in a meaningless regular-season game while he was in charge of the Buffalo Bills, Polian has always erred on the side of caution in these situations. But it is hard to be safe in a collision sport like football.
Some could argue why would you play your starters in the fourth quarter of a game where you are up three touchdowns. Somebody pointed out the Colts did this three times this season. Why risk the health of Manning, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney or any of the other main cogs in a situation like this?
The Patriots lost Wes Welker, likely for the playoffs after a knee injury Sunday, in a pretty meaningless game against Houston. His knee just gave out when he tried to make a cut. Reports said he tore his ACL and MCL, but an MRI later today will reveal the truth. Should he have been in the game? As someone once said, "Fate is a four-letter word."
There are those would who would argue there is something to be said for having momentum going into the post season. But recent history would tell us something different.
The New York Giants stumbled into the playoffs two years ago but ended up holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end, knocking off the historic-seeking Patriots. Also, the Arizona Cardinals were not very impressive in compiling a 9-7 record and winning the NFC West last season. But they turned that around and went all the way to the Super Bowl, before losing a heartbreaker to Pittsburgh.
The Patriots also can shed some light on a undefeated regular season and the pursuit of perfection. I have a funny feeling that New England would a trade their 16-0 mark two regular seasons ago for a Super Bowl title that year.
The 18-1 49ers team of the 80s and the 18-1 1985 Bears, both Super Bowl champs, and their fans have a different feeling than that 18-1 New England squad.
The funny thing is that all of the Colts fans who booed during the Jets game were assuming -- and you know what they say about that word -- and taking for granted that the Colts are the best team in pro football and are a lock to make and to win the Super Bowl. Nothing could be further from the truth as commentators remind us that the San Diego Chargers have bounced the Colts out of the playoffs two straight times and have won 4 of 5 against Indy.
Having to rally in the fourth quarter to win half of your games, like Indy did this season, can be interpreted a couple of ways. It could mean you have the character and composure to overcome adverse situations. It also could mean you are more lucky than good. It might mean your offense, as high powered as it can be at times, is inconsistent especially with a less than productive running game, except in the Red Zone. Mostly it means you have No. 18 at quarterback and he gives you a chance to win every time he steps on the field.
It does seem a bit disingenuous that the Colts did not go for a team record and a shot to be remembered like the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl, but that Wayne and Clark both achieved 100 catches in a season and Manning's streak of consecutive starts continued at Buffalo.
But nobody is going to confuse these Colts with that 16-0 Patriot team that steam rolled just about everyone as Tom Brady threw for 50 touchdowns, breaking Manning's record of 49. I just hope the Colts did not use up all of their luck in those comebacks, and believe me you need it to win on any level.
As New York Jets coach Rex Ryan said before their game against the Colts, they have earned the right to play this game any way they wanted.
How ludicrous is it for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to say they will consider offering incentives to try to get teams to play their starters in meaningless games at the end of the season? It isn't fair that season-ticket holders have to pay for two preseason games when the starters barely break a sweat. but if your mother told you life was fair, she was lying to you.
Last year I was fortunate to have a ticket to go to the Colts game against Tennessee at Lucas Oil Stadium. The starters played one series in a 23-0 victory as then-coach Tony Dungy and Polian decided to rest the starters for the playoffs.
Colts fans should be thankful to be in a position where they don't know if games in late December will mean anything or not because of their success.
I guess we could be fans of the Falcons, who finished 9-7 this year, the first time in franchise history they have had back-to-back winning seasons. Or we could be the fans of the Lions and Bills, both who have not been in the playoffs in 10 years.
Even the defending-champion Steelers did not make the big dance this year.
Colts fans have been blessed to be part of seven-year run where the Blue and White win three out of four times they step on field and are fixture in the playoffs, where there is always pressure to win, no matter if you are 16-0 or 14-2.
The so-called experts said there is more pressure on Indy to win because of the way they shrugged off history. As Don Henley wrote, "Kick 'em when they're up. Kick 'em when they're down. Dirty little secrets. Dirty little lies. We've got our dirty little fingers in everybody's pies. We love to cut you down to size. We love dirty laundry."
The regular season is over and we are looking forward and fortunate to be playing in the post season, Manning told the Associated Press after the loss to Buffalo in a winter wonderland Sunday.
As Jim Mora is famous for saying, "Playoffs? You're talking about playoffs? Are you kidding me?".
B.J. Hargis is sports editor at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (812) 847-4487, ext. 12.
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