Colts’ Caldwell not second-guessing choice to sit stars

Colts coach Jim Caldwell will not second-guess the decision to

rest his starters Sunday.

He’ll let everybody else do it for him.

One day after Indianapolis pulled the plug on its perfect season

by sitting Peyton Manning and others with 5:36 left in the third

quarter of a 15-10 game, the great debate raged in

Indianapolis.

NFL purists expressed disappointment that the Colts sidestepped

their shot at perfection. Other analysts suggested the Colts had an

obligation to play it straight, and hometown fans expressed their

anger with strong critiques on local radio shows.

None of it fazed Caldwell.

“I’m one of those guys, it’s probably my greatest strength and

my greatest weakness, I can focus in, I can narrow my scope, and

once you make a decision you have to live with it,” he said.

“Certainly you weigh all the options before. You take a look at

all the things that could occur, but once that decision is done you

just keep moving.”

Indy fans aren’t ready to move on just yet.

After celebrating record after record during an unprecedented

23-game winning streak and feeling like they had a personal stake

in the pursuit of perfection, they showered Lucas Oil Stadium with

boos over the final 20 minutes Sunday. Pro Bowl receiver Reggie

Wayne joked to a local television station that Indy might be the

first 14-1 team to get booed at home.

In time, fans will likely calm down, and if the Colts win the

Super Bowl, all will be forgiven.

“Ultimately, what matters the most is what happens in the

postseason,” Denver coach Josh McDaniels said. “So, I think their

season is going to be determined by what they do once the playoffs

start, not what happened yesterday.”

The controversy has stoked passions among Indy sports fans and

on the national stage unlike anything this community has seen since

the firing of Bob Knight in 2000 or The Brawl in Detroit in

2004.

Yes, everybody has an opinion, but the only ones that really

matter are voiced in the locker room – and they support

Caldwell.

“You get people who think you should have gone for it and

people who think we did a disservice to the NFL by not playing our

guys,” said left tackle Charlie Johnson, who was deactivated for

Sunday’s game because of a foot injury. “But I think you have to

look at the decisions coach Caldwell has made up to this point and

trust him.”

The decision also could have ramifications on the playoff

race.

The Jets now have control, thanks to Sunday’s victory, and teams

such as Pittsburgh or Houston could end up missing the postseason

because the Colts rested key players.

“Obviously I would have loved to have seen them win that

game,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “But for us it really

doesn’t matter. We have to worry about taking care of our business.

… They’ve got to do what they think they got to do. But we’ve got

to worry about ourselves.”

Caldwell and team president Bill Polian, the architect of the

Colts, insist they did what was best for the team. Their goal,

Polian and Caldwell continue to insist, is to win the Super Bowl

— not go 16-0. And the best way to accomplish that, they

believe, is to be healthy.

So they sat the starters for the final 20 minutes, allowing the

Jets to rally for a 29-15 victory. They’re likely to sit even

longer this weekend in Buffalo.

“The perfect season was never an issue with us,” Polian said

after the game. “We’ve said it time and time and time again. It’s

somebody else’s issue, but not ours. That was of no concern.

Football logic has to come into play, and that logic is it makes no

sense to have guys out there with the potential for injuries.”

Fans didn’t buy Polian’s contention.

Callers to radio shows repeatedly questioned Indy’s tack. Some

asked for refunds. Others described Polian as “arrogant” and one

fan said the team “spit in our face.” One talk show host read an

e-mail on the air that said the Colts didn’t lose Sunday’s game,

they forfeited it, and many brought up the Colts’ previous

postseason failures.

In three of the last four years, Indianapolis has not won a

playoff game. The other time, the Colts won the Lombardi

Trophy.

It’s a tricky question.

Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who played on the

perfect Patriots in 2007, and Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who had the

last team to lose a game in 2008, believe organizations have to

make the decision that is best for them, even though Fisher said he

would play his starters if he were 14-0.

So will Caldwell’s decision be worth it? Maybe.

“I think everybody really had the sense that if they played

their players they would win the next two games. They didn’t,”

Fisher said. “But I think we have to wait and see and then go back

and ask yourself that question. Just wait and see what happens in

the playoffs.”