As the season winds down, the story lines should shrink. After all, there are plenty of teams already on the outside looking in, and plenty of teams already on the inside looking out.
But, still, even with a clear difference between the league’s “haves” and “have nots,” the weekend of the 15th games of a 16-game season featured plenty of things to discuss.
So here’s the issue that we find most compelling, with links to the other nine eventually added below.
1. Colts blew it.
They say that history always forgets the team that finished in second place.
With 43 Super Bowls and counting in the books, history is starting to have a hard time keeping straight the teams that have won it all.
Sure, some hard-core fans can recite the winners of every championship game since the Packers took down the Chiefs in the first Super Bowl, before the phrase Super Bowl had even been coined. But for most it’s hard to remember exactly who won the title in any given year, without resorting to Google.
Perfection, however, is indelible. No one will forget the ’72 Dolphins.
The Colts had a great chance to be the next team, 37 years later, to navigate an NFL season without a single loss, trumping Miami’s 17-0 season by two games.
And the Colts blew it.
Coach Jim Caldwell will catch the brunt of the blame, even though he probably was merely doing what he had been told to do by team president Bill Polian. Regardless, the fans are livid, and now if the Colts fail to win the Super Bowl, Caldwell’s decision to take the foot off the gas with 1.5 regular-season games to go will be the focal point of the finger pointing.
Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, a publication that has been known to shake the blue and white pom-poms from time to time, appropriately let the team have it for conceding Sunday’s game to the Jets: “They treated [perfection] with a casual shrug of the shoulders, disdain even, as
if they were beyond such a trivial pursuit. Standing on the precipice
of NFL history, the Indianapolis Colts’ brain trust arrogantly,
foolishly, treated Sunday’s second half like a preseason game.”
Our friends at NBC were split on the topic of whether the Colts should have continued to push for 16-0. Said Cris Collinsworth during Football Night in America: “I would have been out of my mind to have an opportunity to have
the best record in the history of the National Football League and I was not
allowed the opportunity to go for that. Peyton Manning has every right to be
upset. . . . Peyton Manning is a football historian. He has to be absolutely crazy right
Former Colts coach Tony Dungy disagreed. “You have an obligation to win the Super Bowl, not to go undefeated,” Dungy said.
We agree that, within the confines of a given season, the goal is to win the Super Bowl. But the Colts are in the mix for a championship every season, and they will be until Manning retires. Rarely does the opportunity arise to do something truly historic; when it does, we think the opportunity should be embraced, even if doing so adds nothing to the pursuit of a Super Bowl title.
And that leads to a question no one has satisfactorily answered: How does pulling Peyton Manning in the second half of Sunday’s game help the team get ready to win the Super Bowl? Surely, Caldwell didn’t fear that the quarterback who never gets hurt would blow out a knee in the time that remained against the Jets. So did Caldwell think that Curtis Painter would get enough reps to be ready if/when the quarterback who never gets hurt gets hurt in a playoff game? Is Painter now that much better prepared to lead the team to victory over the Patriots or the Chargers if Peyton goes down?
While most of the players are saying all the right things (since the last thing they need is Ed Werder camped out at the facility all week talking about schisms and such), the body language and demeanor of Manning and many of his teammates, who had to watch helplessly as the team pissed away a chance for something far more special than the once-a-year crowning of a champion, was undeniable.
They’re not happy.
And not all of them are saying all the right things.
wouldn’t [want to pursue perfection]?” Reggie Wayne said, per Kravitz. “I mean . . . who wouldn’t? Doesn’t
everybody want to be a part of history? Not a season goes by that you
don’t hear about the ’72 Dolphins.”
Even when Wayne tried to be diplomatic and deferential, his frustration came through.
“I guess there’s a bigger picture. We all wanted to play, but the big dog made a decision and
we have to roll with that decision. We came out after halftime and felt
like we were starting to roll and could score some points, but the
manager took us off the mound.”
Peyton Manning’s exercise of extreme restraint reminded us of T.O.’s declaration from earlier in the year that “I just run the plays that are called.”
“We are followers of our head coach and the people in the organization
to lead us and give us direction,” Manning said, per Kravitz. “That’s the way we’ve
always done around here. Our job is to take instructions from our
superiors and follow those instructions.”
In other words, Peyton wanted to keep playing, but they wouldn’t let him. And he’s got no choice but to agree with that, even if he doesn’t like it.
Caldwell’s job in his first season with the Colts was simple — stay out of the way and let Manning do his thing. Caldwell made the mistake on Sunday of disrupting that process. Even if the directive came from Polian, Caldwell is the one who’ll have to find a way to keep Manning and the rest of the team behind him for the balance of the 2009 season and beyond.
Some thought that carrying a perfect record into the playoffs would put too much pressure on the Colts to win it all. As it turns out, Caldwell has placed even more pressure on himself to be certain that the plan calling for the Colts to lay down while leading in the game that would have pushed them to 15-0 culminates in a Super Bowl win.
Even then, we think plenty of players and fans will have a hard time getting beyond Caldwell’s decision to take a course that cuts against the grain of a group of men who are programmed to give everything they have to win every game they can.
No. 2: Bengals face a dilemma.
No. 3: Bye-week bingo in the NFC.
No. 4: Haynesworth must go.
No. 5: Giants won’t cave to Osi.
No. 6: Cowboys still have much to prove.
No. 7: Mangini twists in the wind.
No. 8: Bengals-Jets was obvious Week 17 flex choice.