In the midst of a 15-10 third quarter with the Jets this week, the Colts, on the path to perfection, decided to sit their starters—Peyton Manning included—rather than push through to finish the game with a chance to go undefeated next week.
The Colts had the lead at the time, but they by no means had the game locked up—especially not when their backup quarterback, rookie Curtis Painter, was ill-prepared to control the clock against a New York Jets team fighting to remain in the playoff hunt.
Coach Jim Caldwell had to know what would happen if he pulled his team out of the game with the score still so close.
The Colts lost in brutal fashion.
First, Painter was stripped for a fumble that the Jets recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Painter would later be intercepted, and the Colts never scored again. The Jets just ran away with it, right in front of the Colts’ starters’ eyes as they watched from the bench.
All the while, the highly competitive Peyton Manning stood on the sidelines, helmet on , brooding over what might have been had he stayed in the game.
It’s one thing to sit your starters. It’s another to spit in the face of a record that’s almost impossible to reach.
Earlier this season, Michael Irvin said that he would trade all three Super Bowl rings and his Hall of Fame membership for one undefeated season, a notch on the belt that only one NFL team in the history of the game has ever had.
But the Colts, just a little more than five quarters away from being perfect through the regular season, decided it wasn’t worth another quarter of play. It wasn’t worth the risk of injury.
Without any consideration for the fact that when the Manning-led Colts won a Super Bowl, the Colts were coming off a regular season in which they didn’t rest starters and entered as a Wild Card, Caldwell opted to let his primary players take a breather for the big one.
I don’t think that players get rusty. Some NFL stars don’t practice much in the offseason and come in Week One ready to dominate, but there’s something to be said for playing it out all the way to the end, especially when you have something to accomplish.
I think the teams that have the momentum on their side should keep that momentum by at least playing until a win is secured in their final games.
By giving up on a historic record, and doing so in such a brutal fashion by feeding a rookie quarterback to the wolves of an attacking defense, the Colts got their spirit broken, their dreams crushed, and no lollipop when it was finished.
Peyton Manning had to watch as a rookie quarterback blew apart his perfect season in just a little less than two quarters of play. In his entire career, Manning may never get another chance to do that.
So don’t tell me that all the players agreed it was the best idea, Caldwell. Don’t tell me that the record doesn’t matter, Colts.
To your fans, to your players, and to the many NFL icons around the league, the Colts looked like an unstoppable force because they were undefeated, and now, they’ve become just another team.
Look at the Saints. One week after losing to the Cowboys, they lost to the miserable Bucs. Sure, they’re still the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but the Saints are exposed. They’re no longer the monster they seemed to be weeks ago. They can lose. They can give up.
San Diego has far more hype than the Colts, now that Indy doesn’t have an undefeated streak at their backs, and the Chargers have had the Colts’ number in the postseason.
Once you give up, even in a game that doesn’t matter, it’s easy to get caught doing it again.
Maybe it will strike in the playoffs; maybe it hits them in the Super Bowl. It’s only a matter of time before this morale-killing loss catches up to the Colts.
If you want to win a Super Bowl ring, something that takes a no-quit attitude, you simply can’t quit — not in any game, not on any record. You have to keep the wind at your back. You have to keep the momentum in full swing.
And that’s why the Colts won’t win the Super Bowl, no matter what they say these next two weeks. They quit in the third quarter. They quit too early, and they can’t forgive themselves for doing that.