Tuesday, December 29, 2009

16-0? No thanks.

The Colts essentially gave away their chance at an undefeated season on Sunday. Ahead 15-10 in the third quarter, head coach Jim Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning and threw rookie Curtis Painter into the fire against the best defense in the league. Painter, who had never taken an NFL snap, immediately fumbled near the goal line, and the Jets recovered it for a touchdown. The Colts offense could do very little the rest of the way, and the '72 Dolphins rejoiced.

I may be biased because of my disdain for Mercury Morris and the Dolphins, but I think this was a terrible decision. Everyone says, "The undefeated season means nothing. All that really matters is winning the Super Bowl." Yes, raising the Lombardi Trophy over your head is the most important thing. But is going 19-0 along the way really not important at all? Most football fans know the Colts won the Super Bowl recently, but might not even be able to tell you the exact year. If a team were to do what was pretty much unthinkable until the Patriots nearly accomplished it a couple years ago, they would be one of the most memorable teams of all time, in any sport. That doesn't matter at all?

On top of that, we've seen teams bench their starters at the end of the year time and time again, and while it obviously keeps said players from getting injured, it can also curb momentum and disturb mojo (see: 2005 Indianapolis Colts). If the Colts sit Manning for a significant portion of this week's game as well, he will go four weeks between playing full games (the final two weeks of the regular season plus the bye week). Is that really the best recipe for a Super Bowl run?

And lastly, we're talking about Peyton Manning here, a man who has never missed a game due to injury. He's as likely to tear his MCL tripping over a member of the chain gang as he is taking a third down snap. Okay, that's probably not true. But this is not an aging, injury-prone player we're talking about. A guy who misses three games a year? A guy with a history of concussions or arm injuries? I get that. But not Peyton Manning.

(By the way, taking him out with a lead or deficit of 14 points or more? Makes total sense. But up five in the third quarter? That's where you lose me.)

It seems to me that the Colts would have risked rather little by playing Manning and their other starters for the majority of their final few games. And they stood to gain a place in NFL and sports lore, and to accomplish something that may never be repeated. But less than six quarters away from completing the regular season portion of said accomplishment, they decided to forfeit any chance of joining the Dolphins on that most unique of pedestals.

While the Cowboys stole the Saints' potential perfect season, the Colts simply gave theirs away. '72 Dolphins, your distinction is safe; the Colts want no part of it.

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