Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Trying To Sum Up My Feelings On The Colts Game

I need to start the article by saying this: I am upset that the Colts pulled several starters against the Jets. I wanted that undefeated season, and it was as close to being in the bag as possible with the Jets and Bills as the only remaining opponents. I don't think Peyton gets hit or hurt enough to be scared of injury. I think the bye week before the playoffs gives ample time for rest, so I don't think they needed to rest Peyton. I also think the Colts win that game (without much doubt in my mind) if Peyton alone is allowed to remain on the field, even as other starters sit. I will probably always feel like they let a truly great feat slip through their grasp out of fear. I also happen to feel that resting your players is a strategy that backfires regularly, and it pains me to think the Colts might have just let their season-long momentum get away from them.

But... that being said... the media is going crazy with this story. Of course, we all know the media is reactive. They ask questions they know are loaded in the locker room, knowing they'll get to criticize the player or coach regardless of the answer. If someone in the NFL gives the party line answer, like Tom Brady almost always does, the media whines about boring press conferences and players not being honest. But if Brady says something opinionated, he'll be crucified for it.

This is the state of the NFL media as we know it. The coverage and criticism is officially bigger than the game itself.

Let's get this out of the way, can we really blame Caldwell for wanting to protect a player so important to his team? We can disagree, sure--as I do--but it's not like he had no basis or logic whatsoever in making his call. Even if we label Caldwell resting Peyton as "paranoia," we still have to at least give some credence to his fear. Heck, the play of Curtis Painter in that very game was the perfect illustration of what Caldwell was paranoid about. No player is more important to their team's success than Peyton Manning, and without him they are nothing (as we Colts fans will learn for years after he retires). If there's one guy in the NFL to be paranoid about injuries with... it's him... not because he gets injured a lot, but because of what happens if he ever does.

As I said in my comment to Chris' post, Caldwell would be demolished if he'd left Peyton in only to see a freak injury happen to him. Am I the only one who remembers the criticism of Belichick for leaving his players in too long in games during their undefeated season? Caldwell criticism would be absolutely deafening if Manning had been injured--far worse than the current storm. "Conventional wisdom" is, by definition... conventional. When a coach goes against conventional wisdom, as Belichick did earlier in the year on 4th down, he is criticized for it.

The real problem is that coaches are essentially making decisions, in a round about way, based on what people will say about them afterwards. Why? Because coaching is a dangerous job, and great coaches are fired all the time for simply not winning for a season or two. How did we get here? Job security is almost more important than whatever game decision is actually in front of you.

Some other thoughts that I can't really take the time to put in order:

  • I'd rather go 15-1 or 14-2 but still win the Super Bowl than go 16-0 and fail to win the Super Bowl. Like any fan probably would... I just wanted my cake (16-0) and the ability to eat it too (Super Bowl).
  • Let's not forget that Manning has actually been injured for several weeks, with a "glute" injury. He's been on the injured list, but has still played. And, at times... played like someone who has a small nagging injury. Not sure if any of you saw the Jets game... but there were several throws he made that were just a bit off. Now, I have no idea if his throws were off because of his butt injury of if they were off because he ate some bad chicken. But it's not as though there isn't any reason at all to worry about rest or injury. Freeny and some of the other guys that got pulled have also been battling injuries.
  • It's also patently stupid to suggest the team owes fans a refund or should be investigated for laying down (yes, I have read actual analysts suggesting this). If you bet a bunch of money on the Colts and then lost, you have only yourself to blame. History alone should have told the bettors to stay away from this game. And I don't think NFL teams owe gamblers anything. It's called a gamble, for Pete's sake.
  • As for the fans of teams that needed the Jets to lose... maybe if your team had won more games when they had a chance they wouldn't be dependent on some other team to win or lose. Teams rest starters when they have something clinched all the freaking time in all sports. Does it suck? Yeah, sure. But it's not as though this is new. Happens every single year with many teams. So it's pretty silly to me to see some teams and fans saying "But if they'd kept Peyton in my team would still be in contention!" If the Colts go 8-8 next year, and miss the playoffs due to some great team laying down... I will be upset that the Colts lost 8 games, not that some great team lost one. Can I understand teams on the bubble and their fans being disappointed or upset? Sure. But not blaming the Colts for the end of their season. That's like blaming the final batter in the World series who strikes out instead of blaming any of the previous 26 outs in the game. It may be a matter of opinion, but I don't think teams that win a ton have a responsibility to the teams that didn't win as much, and I'd like to think I'd feel the same way if the shoe were on the other foot.
  • As a fan, I'm really more upset about the whole "momentum" issue than I am over the undefeated season. I wanted undefeated... for sure. But I've seen this team get to a great record and then rest players four or five different times this decade... and they always lose in the playoffs. The one year they couldn't rest, and needed to play through the last regular season game for position, was the year they won the whole thing. So it's more that I'm worried that resting is a bad strategy and we'll lose in the playoffs than it is that I'm pissed we won't be undefeated. (But I am pissed we won't be undefeated).
  • There are several areas of NFL football where conventional wisdom seems wrong to me. Always punting on 4th down, not using great players to return punts for fear of injury, and resting players when the playoffs are locked up. All three issues could do with a little re-examining, I think. And all three have become conventional wisdom not because of math or logic... but because of history, tradition, and fear for ones reputation and job status.
  • Finally, Caldwell didn't make that decision. Surely you know that. It was Bill Polian's decision. And you could see in the eyes of the pulled players that they wanted to go for it.
That's all I have right now. You can probably tell that I'm both mad at my team for their choices on Sunday and mad at the people who are, in my view, over criticizing said choices. In my view, there are only two legit reasons to be critical of the Colts for their move: 1. Because resting players prior to playoffs actually doesn't seem to work, and 2. Because actually going undefeated would be an unprecedented achievement in the modern era. All other criticisms seem hollow to me. I don't think it makes Caldwell or Polian stupid, and it's even a bit premature to say that they were wrong. It just means they made a choice that a lot of people didn't understand or agree with... myself included.


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