I guess you can give credit to Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell. He has shown better resolve than I would have.
Caldwell put his money where his mouth is, benching quarterback Peyton Manning and a number of other starters during the third quarter of Sunday’s game, with the Colts leading the New York Jets 15-10. The Jets rallied when the Colts brought in backup QB Curtis Painter for a 29-15 victory.
It was the Colts’ first loss of the season after opening with 14 straight victories.
By benching his starters, Caldwell decided he’d rather protect the health of his players than try to secure only the third undefeated season in modern NFL regular-season history. Nobody will ever forget the two teams to do it – the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 2007 New England Patriots – but for different reasons.
The Dolphins went on to win the Super Bowl in 1972 and are considered in the discussion of the best teams in NFL history. The Patriots of two years ago went unbeaten all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to the New York Giants.
The Patriots were being talked about as the greatest team in NFL history before losing that Super Bowl. If any team ran the table in the current NFL model, that team would undoubtedly be considered the best team ever to play the game.
Caldwell’s Colts will have no part of that, and I can’t help but disagree with the Colts coach. Teams don’t get opportunities like this every year, and rather than seize the momentum, Caldwell is doing what’s best for his job security. He’s doing what’s least likely to get him fired (if Manning had remained in the game and gotten hurt, you can bet NFL talking heads would be bantering about that).
If I was a member of Colts ownership, I would have made it clear to Caldwell before the game that whatever direction he decides to go, ownership won’t think any less of him.
Because the Colts have done this before. And as many great Colts teams as there have been this decade, there has been plenty of playoff disappointment. And why? Because all too frequently, the Colts teams are so great that they have secured that home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by Week 15. And then many of the team’s stars get to rest in Week 16, Week 17 and in the first round of the playoffs when the team doesn’t have a game.
The Colts won one Super Bowl this decade, but most would agree that was not their best team of this decade. That Colts team finished 12-4 in the regular season, and didn’t have the luxury of resting its stars. Manning played all the way through Week 17.
In too many seasons, their star players have been unable to shake off the rust of repeated rest. History will judge whether or not Caldwell made the right call Sunday. But if it was me, I’d shoot for the stars.