Manning-Colts: Resting Starters in First Loss Sends Wrong Message

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Manning-Colts: Resting Starters in First Loss Sends Wrong Message
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The champagne corks popped in South Florida on Sunday, but the 1972 Dolphins’ celebration of perfection had to be a hollow one this year. Sure the Indianapolis Colts (14-1) lost for the first time this season to the New York Jets by a score of 29-15. But “C’MON MAN”, the “real” Colts, namely quarterback Peyton Manning, left Sunday’s game in the third quarter.

Sure the Colts had staked their second stringers to a 15-10 lead, but from the time when Manning and company took a seat on the bench—5:36 left in the third quarter—Indy was outscored 19-0. 

Colts’ backup quarterback Curtis Painter was awful, to say the least, as he produced putrid numbers of 4/11 passing for 44 yards, zero TDs, and one interception in an effort that made most Colts fans long for former quarterback Jack Trudeau. The former Purdue signal caller’s biggest play of the game, a fumble recovery for a touchdown by the Jets, came immediately after Colts’ fans realized Manning was done for the game and serenaded the young quarterback with boos.

Painter was hit by NY Jets linebacker Calvin Pace and lost the ball, with Marques Douglas recovering and scoring. A two-point conversion pass from NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez to TE Dustin Keller made the score 18-15 and New York never relinquished the lead.

After the game, Manning as he always does said all of the right things. The soon to be four-time NFL MVP said, “Until any player in here is the head coach, you follow orders and you follow them with all of your heart. That’s what we’ve done as players. We follow order.” 

Okay Peyton we get it that Colts owner Jim Irsay, GM Bill Polian, and rookie head coach Jim Caldwell had all agreed that it would be better for the veteran laden team to rest rather than go for the NFL’s second 16-0 regular season.

But you have to think the Colts players, by their competitive nature, wanted to show the world that they were just as good if not better than the 1972 Dolphins or 2007 New England Patriots (finished 18-1 after a perfect 16-0 regular season). The Colts’ management decision robbed everyone from NFL historians to Colts fans to Caldwell’s players.

The Colts were so close after beating the Jacksonville Jaguars last week in dramatic fashion that they should have “Gone for It” in their two remaining games against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills (combined record of 13-17).  Rest is overrated in the National Football League as “momentum” is omnipotent going into the playoffs. 

History has shown that resting for the playoffs after attaining the No. 1 seed and securing home field advantage in the postseason doesn’t guarantee success in the playoffs. Since 1990 only 17 of 36 No. 1 seeds in the playoffs have made it to the Super Bowl with only eight of those teams winning it all. The last time two No. 1 seeds faced-off was in 1993 for Super Bowl XXVIII with Buffalo vs. Dallas

The Colts were already riding an NFL-record 23 game regular season win streak and by not letting Manning, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, and any other Colts’ player that was rested on Sunday not go for perfection is a travesty.

The NFL has been around for 90 years and the fact that only the 1972 Dolphins can put up their fingers as true unblemished No. 1’s, is an unbelievable accomplishment. Manning and his guys had the unbelievable chance of joining the 1972 Dolphins, but they were robbed of that opportunity by a non-players who think they know more than the guys on the field.

Could the 2009 Colts (Manning, Freeney, Wayne, Brackett, and others) have walked in destiny with the 1972 Dolphins (Cszonka, Griese, Warfield, Scott, and others), we will never know. Cause the Colts just rolled over and the NY Jets–record of (8-7) and clinging to a chance at the playoffs—gladly accepted their belated Christmas gift.

I have to equate what Indy did yesterday to the 1980 US Hockey (eventual gold medal winners) walking away from the challenge of playing the vaunted Soviet Union team in the medal round at Lake Placid.

You see, before that historic game that lives forever in sports lore, many felt the young US team had zero chance given that just a short period before the Olympics, the Soviets had soundly beaten the US upstarts…boy I am glad Herb Brooks never listened to the naysayers and told his players to fight with all of their might.

The Colts may have initially thought “resting” players was not a “give up”. But the move of taking out their key starters when the game was still winnable was a true “Throw Your Hands in the Air” surrender moment. The reason for always trying is that nothing is guaranteed in sports and most players, if not all, never want to look back and have a “What If” stamped on their career. 

The Colts’ management better hope their decision doesn’t backfire in the playoffs—like in 2005 when their former 13-0 regular season team lost in their first playoff game—because they robbed their players an opportunity to make history. If the Colts go on to win the Super Bowl, sure all will probably be forgotten within their fan base, but nothing is guaranteed and you should always play to win the game. 

“I don’t blame them a bit, man,” Colts’ center Jeff Saturday said. “I probably would have booed, too. I don’t blame them. They pay to come see us win games, and we didn’t get it done.”

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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