Question remains for Colts
Now, the Indianapolis Colts can rest.
And make no mistake:
After beating the Denver Broncos, 28-16, Sunday afternoon in a game of streaks, momentum and history, the Colts almost certainly will rest to some degree now that they have clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
That's why when the Colts were asked about pressure in the wake of their NFL-record 22nd consecutive regular-season victory — their 13th to start this year — the notion was easily shrugged away.
Go for 16-0 or rest players?
Go for more history or prepare for playoffs?
To hear the Colts tell it, such things just haven't been seriously considered. Not yet.
"I haven't had time to think about that, I guess," said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, after throwing four touchdown passes and three interceptions against a Broncos team that cut way, way into a three-touchdown deficit before falling just short in the fourth quarter.
The way the Colts think, and the way they are approaching this season, whatever pressure they may or may not feel has little to do with streaks, records or history in the unbeaten sense.
"It's irrelevant," Colts president Bill Polian said. "I don't think there's anybody in this room that thinks about it."
As the Colts see it, they have been here before, starting 13-0 in 2005. They lost that season in the playoffs, won the Super Bowl the following year, and saw the New England Patriots go unbeaten and lose the Super Bowl in 2007. Whatever pressure the Colts feel — not that they'd admit to feeling any — is about postseasons and Super Bowls, not zeroes after the hyphen, and not even history.
"We've just got to take it game-by-game," Colts owner Jim Irsay said afterward. "We'd love to get to 16-0, but that's not the focus."
The Colts made history on many fronts Sunday. There was the consecutive regular-season victories record, and they won their 114th game of the decade, also an NFL record.
They even trumped the performance of Denver wide receiver Brandon Marshall, whose NFL-record 21 receptions for 200 yards got the Broncos close before Manning led an 80-yard, seven-minute touchdown drive to clinch the victory with 2:25 remaining.
After which, the questions of pursuing more history began.
There will be more questions in coming days and weeks.
There will be hue and there will be cry.
All will be ignored, as likely will the opinions of players, although Colts coach Jim Caldwell did say Sunday "it's important you listen to everybody."
"We'll take somewhat of a poll," he said, adding with a smile, "knowing where the final decision lies. We would certainly listen to the guys who have been around here. We'll have a conference on it at some point."
But linebacker Gary Brackett, a defensive captain who has been around for both 13-0 starts, said as much as part of him might like to play the rest of the season, any input from the locker room likely will be limited.
"I don't think that will happen," Brackett said, laughing. "I think they definitely make those decisions and then we follow suit. But as a player, we definitely want to keep the momentum going."
One reason the Colts will rest is that they don't believe the commonly held theory that their past playoff frustrations are tied to "rust and momentum."
But mainly, they will rest because of necessity.
The Colts played the final quarter without rookie cornerback Jerraud Powers, and cornerback Jacob Lacey left the game briefly before returning. Second-year running back Mike Hart was playing late for Joseph Addai because backup Donald Brown has missed the last two games with a chest injury.
Polian several weeks ago said of injuries that you can only stretch the rubber band so far, and on Sunday, he said the issue of resting or not resting is really quite simple.
"It's only about who's healthy," he said. "Today was the most important game from the standpoint of this year's race — that's over. Today was the most important game if you want to talk about history, because it achieved two historic milestones. That's it. What more is there to do?
"You do what you think is best, but I think that's moot. I don't think it goes beyond who's healthy."
And with that, you pretty much knew what the Colts will do moving forward. They'll play some players, and perhaps they'll go all-out Thursday against Jacksonville. But if anyone is on the borderline between playing and not playing, they won't play, not for the pursuit of 16-0, and certainly not to maintain momentum.
The way the Colts see it, that's what they earned on Sunday — not any added pressure to go unbeaten, but rather, the right to choose. And to those running the Colts, the choice is rest, if not complete rest, enough to make winning three more in the regular season tough. Very tough.
To those running the Colts, the choice really isn't much of a choice at all.
And they own the vote that counts.