“Last night, while I lay thinking here, some Whatifs crawled inside my ear…”
One question for 2010 is finally answered.
Will there be a 19-0 (or even simply 16-0) team? The answer came in back to back weeks with the Saints falling to the Cowboys (then shockingly to the Buccaneers in the next game) in Week 15, followed by a Colts loss to the New York Jets in Week 16.
It put a finality to questions over not only whether to rest starters, but how soon to shelve them and whether rest took priority over a chance at history.
The decision was made during the third quarter with the Colts leading 15-10, that the time had come to rest Indianapolis’ starters. The question over whether to ‘go for it’ addressed, now the team faces a fresh array to answer.
Should the team take home anything but a Superbowl trophy, some blame will likely be affixed to the idea of ending the year with preventative measures. The deeper the team can go, the quieter those cries will be. But any loss will bring any array of criticism covering a plethora of angles.
If they lose in either AFC matchup, that angle will look heavily towards questioning the method of trying to ‘turn it back on’ after so much down time.
A Superbowl win will erase all of that… for a week or two. The excitement of a win will ultimately override concerns over resting starters and taking that champagne glass from Mercury Morris’ hand.
After that, however, they still have those whatifs that will bounce around. This was a team capable of winning the Superbowl, so what would have happened had they played their starters through to the end of the regular season? Was 19-0 thwarted by a management decision and not by the players on the field?
It doesn’t outweigh the elation of hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy, but it does give some pause.
It is the technicality that will asterisk the win to a lot of fans. Not an asterisk to the win’s legitimacy, but rather the potential for history. What keeps athletes, teams, and fan bases fueled is that hunger for more. A Super Bowl is great, now go repeat. 18-1 is fantastic, but what about 19-0?
It would be easier to approach the decision without much question were there more history supporting the decision.
The Colts are 7-8 in the playoffs during the Peyton Manning era. A key statistic in their Super Bowl winning, 2006 campaign: 4-0 in the playoffs.
That was one of the few years the team was unable to give time to backup Jim Sorgi because the Colts were fighting for position to the end.
Despite a solid 12-4 record, Indianapolis could not secure a bye, and fought through the entire playoffs. The ultimate result was Peyton Manning’s lone NFL championship.
More telling for the Colts; in years where Jim Sorgi has closed the regular season for Indianapolis, the Colts are 1-4 in the playoffs. The team’s historical tendency to rest starters when the final games were irrelevant to playoff positioning has not once paid dividends.
In every one of those four losses, the Colts were the favored team, one or even two years can be considered isolated incidents. Four Years without deviation constitutes a trend.
Granted the Colts were in a situation where either choice would have been scrutinized ad infinitum . Had the Colts played their starters deeper into the game and one been injured, the choice would have been lambasted by all involved. Even if the team had gone into the playoffs with no new injuries, a loss would be examined under a microscope.
Without the stress of "perfection" would the team played a little less tight, forced things a less and won? Was the team tired from the constant comebacks and tight play? Would the rest have done them well and gave them fresher legs for the playoffs?
When you play your starters in a situation where they could have been rested, anything but complete victory brings about a barrage of questions about the decision to play them. Should a team elect to rest its starters (as they did), then a whole new set of questions are raised.
The reality is that there is only one result that would have negated any chance for questioning the decision.
Whether it be by leaving Manning in or by Curtis Painter maintaining the team’s lead, 19-0 is the only way the team avoids criticism. Should they take home the Superbowl, the worst of that criticism will be mitigated, but even then, the team will still always have to wonder "what if…”