A good coach and a smart organization never take the responsibility of winning off the players.
When a team loses, the coaches and executives want the media, fans and players asking the men in uniform to explain the failure.
All the pressure now is on Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian, the architects of the Colts’ one-game losing streak, the masterminds of Indy’s 29-15 loss to the Jets — the geniuses who pulled Peyton Manning and several other Indianapolis starters early in the third quarter on Sunday.
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You never give a competitor an excuse. Even the best ones might take it.
That’s the potentially fatal flaw in Indy’s decision to take a pass on perfection in pursuit of a Super Bowl. Fifty-three players now have an excuse for losing. Let’s agree that Manning, Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday, Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney and most of the Colts’ other top-line players won’t take it. The problem is, all it takes is one.
Along the way to winning 14 straight this season, the Colts secured half of those victories in the fourth quarter, winning seven games by four points or less. These Colts were not the 2007 New England Patriots, who reeled off 18 straight victories while playing just four one-possession games.
These Colts reached 14-0 by repeatedly making clutch plays in the closing moments. They stared down adversity and proved to be more mentally tough than their opponent.
So what happens in the fourth quarter now? What happens when the Texans, for instance, jump to a 17-0 lead, or the Jaguars, for instance, take a three-point lead and are driving for a two-possession lead in the fourth quarter?
What happens when playoff adversity strikes? Will all 45 active players remain calm and confident, or will one or two or three players question Caldwell’s leadership and the decision to abandon immortality? We won’t know until or unless it happens. What we do know is if the Colts lose a playoff game, Caldwell and Polian will face the toughest scrutiny. If Manning tosses five interceptions, the blame falls on Caldwell and Polian. If Wayne drops the game-winning TD pass, the blame falls on Caldwell and Polian. If Indy’s defense surrenders 40 points, the blame falls on Caldwell and Polian.
You don’t give players an out. They’re immature. They’re moody. They’re easily distracted.
Sunday’s loss, the way it happened, is a gigantic distraction. The conversation about the 2009 Colts has been changed. They gave a game to an inferior opponent, allowing the Jets to keep their reasonable playoff hopes alive. Worse, the Colts cheated their fan base, taxpayers who anted a ridiculous sum for the new palace where the Colts play. Those fans wanted to witness and be a part of history.
Most damaging, the Colts backed away from a challenge. They ducked Manny Pacquiao.
You think Bill Belichick, if given the opportunity to slay the Colts in the playoffs, won’t get some emotional mileage out of the Indianapolis Cowards and Peyton Manning being unworthy of the Patriots and Tom Brady’s throne?
“They don’t want it as much as you do!” Belichick will preach. “They’ve always had more talent, but they’ve never had our heart.”
Caldwell, a good coach, and Polian, the league’s best GM, made an asinine decision. Going undefeated has never once stopped a team from reaching the Super Bowl.
“The perfect season has never been one of our goals,” Caldwell claimed after the game. “It’s never been anything we focused on or anything we talked about.”
Knocking boots with Beyonce has never been one of my goals, but if presented the opportunity, you best believe I won’t labor through 20 minutes of foreplay and signal for Curtis Painter to finish the job.
There are stated goals and there are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities only fools pass up. You put Beyonce on your resume and it opens unforeseen doors. Tom Brady is married to Gisele because he dated Bridget Moynahan first.
Caldwell’s players were focused on perfection. They recognized the spoils that go along with an undefeated season. Mercury Morris (4,133 career rushing yards) is a household sports name because the ’72 Dolphins won every game. Don Shula’s 17-0 Dolphins are the most relevant team in the history of the league.
There’s no downside to running the regular-season table. Two teams have done it and both advanced to the Super Bowl. It took the greatest catch and luckiest QB scramble of the decade for the Patriots to lose the Super Bowl vs. the Giants.
What’s the playoff record of one- or two-loss teams? Not as impressive as the ’72 Dolphins or the ’07 Pats.
By losing on Sunday, the Colts actually increased the pressure on their playoff performance. They’ll be under more pressure to reach the Super Bowl than the ’07 Patriots. And if they get to the big game and win it, they’ll be the first world champions to have an asterisk placed by their accomplishment.
Owner Jim Irsay should’ve overruled his general manager and head coach.
You can e-mail Jason at BallState0@aol.com or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.