As the seconds ticked away on the clock you could see the dejected look on the face of the Colts starters, as they gift wrapped a win to the New York Jets. Before I get started I will claim a bit of bias as I am a life long Jets fan, back to the article. Jim Caldwell made a decision one that will be debated over for a very long time, and the ultimate determination of whether it was the correct decision or not will only be seen if the Colts make it to the Super Bowl.
The decision Caldwell made was to sit his starters midway through the 3rd Quarter of their game with the New York Jets. The Colts had just established a 15 - 10 lead after they answered the 106 yard kickoff return for a touchdown by the Jets Brad Smith. After the Jets punted on the next drive Caldwell sends out the backup QB Curtis Painter who has never thrown a pass in his NFL career, Painter subsequently leads the Colts to a 3 and out on their first drive. Then the Jets broke the game open on Painter's second drive with a Defensive touchdown, they added another touchdown later against the Colts backups to seal the victory. The entire time this was going on the camera would pan to the colts sideline and you could see the Colts starters restless, and feeling helpless as their undefeated season slipped away as every second passed.
Publicly you hear the Colts saying all the right things, and commenting that all of them were on board with Jim Caldwell's decision. You know that Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Dwight Freeney all wanted to attempt to do what the Patriots couldn't go 19 - 0 Super Bowl champions. But their head coach chose a different route one that has not served the Colts well in the past. They rested players many seasons and ended up eliminated from the playoffs in the first or second round each time, they finally broke through in 2006 to win the whole thing, but mostly their late season strategy has not worked. Which calls in to question why Caldwell would continue to perpetuate the same strategy that has not yielded great results.
Caldwell made a few comments after the game saying his team's goals never included going undefeated, and his primary concern was keeping players healthy so they can give them the best chance to win the Super Bowl. One comment he made was interesting as he said I played them long enough to keep our team sharp before I pulled the starters. Well that is incorrect Peyton Manning and his receivers were out of sync in that game, there were several missed passes where the timing was off, now as a Jets fan I would say that was all about the defense, but I am sure it was a combination of the Colts pressing because they knew they weren't going to play the whole game and the Jets defense. The Colts looked anything but sharp, the game was 9 - 3 at halftime, so the Jets who were 7 - 7 coming into that game were only one score down to a 14 - 0 team??? The Colts were not dominating that game at all, and to be honest the Jets physically abused the Colts with the running game.
Inevitably there will be consequences to Caldwell's decision, what better way to test your offense than letting them play four full quarters against the best defense in the league? That means you will have faced a defense better than any other team you will have to face in the playoffs, and that first drive the Colts scored on in the second half looked the part like a team that had solved the Jets defense. Also, you build up this momentum of going 14 - 0 then you just decide to pull the plug and expect to be able to turn in on 3 weeks from now after another preseason game, and a bye week? It's not easy to shake off that rust in the first playoff and it has hurt them in the past when they got off to slow starts against Pittsburgh and San Diego in other seasons. Let's not forget that there were thousands of fans who paid good money to see a competitive NFL game, but instead what they got was a preseason game where the Colts cared nothing about winning. Fans actually booed Curtis Painter as he entered the game, which is out of the ordinary for Colts fans who are usually very supportive of everything the team does.
There is no way to predict when injuries will happen that's part of the game, and protecting your players the way Caldwell did is just like the parent that won't let their son play with the neighborhood kids because they are too "rough". You can't protect them forever, and the first game of the playoffs they could lose Peyton Manning on the first play then his decision really would be rendered useless. I am not knocking Caldwell for his decision it's his team and it helped the Jets, but the Patriots made it all the way to the Super playing everyone during that 18 - 1 season, and they have 3 Super Bowls many of them going through the Colts. If you had to compare the two organizations over the last 10 seasons I think the Patriots have gotten it right more than the Colts when it comes to the postseason. The 1972 Miami Dolphins can celebrate another season of being the only team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl, because Jim Caldwell made it clear that history doesn't matter in the quest for the Super Bowl. We will see where this decision ultimately ends up, if the Colts win the Super Bowl then I guess Caldwell will look like a genius.
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