Indy decides to take a knee against the Jets and loses a chance at perfection; the NFC playoff field is set; clueless in New Orleans and hot player of the week.
By Jim Buzinski
How I saw Week 16 in the NFL:
The Indianapolis Colts lost their first game Sunday after beginning their season 14-0. By itself, that's no big deal. Only two teams in the modern era have finished a regular season unbeaten, yet only the 1972 Dolphins went all the way. It was the way the Colts lost that left a bad taste in my mouth.
With 5:36 to play in the third period, the Colts led the Jets, 15-10, and had just gotten the ball back. On their previous drive, the Colts had driven 81 yards for a touchdown. Peyton Manning had not been sacked all game (and barely touched). The offense was in sync and the crowd was smelling 15-0.
Yet, out trotted backup QB, rookie Curtis Painter, and you could feel the air go out of the stadium. Not only was Manning sitting, but so were receivers Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark and running back Joseph Addai. A three-and-out happened, followed by a Painter fumble for a Jets' touchdown and the game was over (and the crowd was booing lustily). The Jets went on to win, 29-15, and a chance at a perfect season was over. Painter had six series and had three three-and-outs, one stopped on fourth down, a fumble and an interception.
I understand the rational by Colts coach Jim Caldwell - why risk injuries to key players in what was a meaningless game in terms of the playoffs? I would have bought the rational had the Colts been losing or winning big or if Manning had been getting hit a lot.
None of those factors were at play and it was obvious that Manning was pissed (as were other players). He did not take his helmet off the rest of the game despite being on the sidelines, I think so we wouldn't see the steam coming out of his ears.
He's a competitor and it was clear that he hated losing under a scenario where his team was leading when he was pulled. I have no doubt that he would have loved to have tied the Patriots as the only teams to go 16-0; that's the franchise the Colts measure themselves against and Manning has a great sense of history. It also goes down as a loss for him as a starter, even though there is little doubt the Colts win if he had stayed in.
All this becomes irrelevant if the Colts win the Super Bowl. However, they have been one and done three of the past four seasons, all when they were playing meaningless games in either Week 15, 16 or 17 by resting starters. If they lose their opener this year, Caldwell will be roasted for continuing a pattern. What they did Sunday on coache's orders seemed the antithesis of what athletes are supposed to do -- play to win, not to avoid injury.
Equal time: For the other side defending the Colts' decision, here is Andrew Perloff of Sports Illustrated:
How can anyone rip Jim Caldwell for ignoring a largely meaningless historical milestone to do what he thought was best for his team? Most coaches are praised for tunnel vision when it comes to trying to win the Super Bowl. Bill Belichick would have been lauded for that kind of cold-blooded strategy. The same pundits that rip Caldwell this week would have gone after him twice as hard if the Colts lost a player to injury or looked fatigued like the 2007 Pats.
Who do you agree with more on this? Me or Perloff? Post your thoughts in the comments below.
Good lines: I liked this from a fan comment on Pro Football Talk: "That was gutless to just give up and not try to go undefeated. Even the French are laughing at the Colts right now." The New York Daily News headline was, "Thank you, Dolts."
MVP: It's obvious now that Manning is the league MVP. Just watching the Colts without him was enough to convince any doubters that he is more valuable to his team than any other player.
Beneficiaries: The Jets (8-7) should send Caldwell a nice gift bag for pulling Manning and the Colts starters. With their win, the Jets now control their playoff chances; if they beat the Bengals (10-5), the Jets are a wild card. NBC has announced that the Bengals at Jets is the Sunday late game next week.
The Ravens (8-7) also control their playoff chances and are in if they beat the Raiders (5-10). If the Jets and Ravens win, the Jets get the No. 5 seed and the Ravens the No. 6 seed.
The biggest loser from the Colts mailing it in was Pittsburgh. The Steelers (8-7) would have been in control for a playoff spot if the Jets had lost. Pittsburgh now needs to beat Miami and get some help. This is the easiest route for the Steelers: Steelers beat the Dolphins, and Bengals beat the Jets, and Patriots beat the Texans (the complete Steelers chances are here). The Steelers, though, have only themselves to blame after losing to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns, a combined 12-33.
The Broncos (8-7) and Texans (8-7) are also still alive, but their chances are the most remote. (See the Broncos options here and the Texans options here). The Chargers (12-3), Patriots (10-5) and Bengals (10-5) have clinched their divisions, with San Diego getting the other bye along with the Colts.
NFC: The playoff picture in the NFC is a lot clearer as all six spots are clinched. The only drama is seeding. The Saints (13-2) get the No. 1 seed with a win over Carolina or a Vikings loss. The Eagles (11-4) get the No. 2 seed if they win and the Vikings lose one. The Cowboys (10-5) win the East and get a home playoff game by beating the Eagles next week. The Packers (10-5) and Cardinals (10-5) are also in. Five of the six teams (the Packers excluded) could still wind up the No. 2 seed.
Repeat: In Week 17, the Cardinals play the Packers, Eagles play the Cowboys and Bengals play the Jets. It's quite possible that these same three matchups could occur in the first round of the playoffs.
Fading: The Saints look like a team that peaked Nov. 30 when they routed the Patriots on national TV. How else to explain their inexplicable 20-17 overtime loss to the Bucs (3-12)? The Saints blew a 17-point lead and their once-fearsome offense looks pedestrian. This comes on the heels of a loss to Cowboys and close wins over the Falcons and Redskins. Hard to believe that just nine days ago people were talking about a Super Bowl between the 18-0 Colts and 18-0 Saints.
Clueless: There was a great shot of Saints owner Tom Benson as New Orleans tried to kick the game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. Benson raised his arms and hugged the woman next to him in celebration, not realizing the kick was no good. There was this "WTF?" look on Benson's face when he finally knew what happened that was priceless (a great animated GIF here).
Bumblers: The Ravens lost 23-20 to the Steelers but can only lament their blown chances. They had two touchdowns called back by penalties, and receiver Derrick Mason dropped an easy pass in the end zone. On another drive, Baltimore was pushed out of field goal range when a lineman committed a personal foul penalty. The Ravens are another team that needs to send Jim Caldwell a thank you gift for keeping their playoff chances alive.
Collapse: Nice to see the Giants (8-7) give it their all in their final game played at Giants Stadium. Carolina won, 41-9, and the Giants' season that started 5-0 ended in flames. This is the first time the Giants will have missed the playoffs since 2004.
Hot player of the day: Colts rookie receiver Austin Collie is having a terrific season playing in an offense that usually takes two or three years to master. His performance has also meant a lot of air time where we see him sans helmet wearing a black skull cap. It's a hot look for the 24-year-old who stands 6 feet and weighs 200 pounds.