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In Wilbon's World

Colts' disappointing decision

I suppose if the Indianapolis Colts wind up holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of the first Sunday evening in February that the ends will have justified the means. But from where we sit now, Jim Caldwell's decision to turn his nose up at a shot at historic greatness stinks. Removing Peyton Manning and essentially all the Colts starters while playing at home with the lead stinks.

As we judge Caldwell's decision right here, right now, it seems almost dishonorable. You know what's worse than not winning? Not trying. It flies in the face of everything we love about sports, everything parents and coaches teach kids about competition. Not trying is unforgivable. And based on what...somebody could get hurt? Hell, it's football, yes, somebody could get hurt. The first commandment in sports is "Play to Win" and Caldwell spit on that Sunday. Did you see the look on Peyton Manning's face when Caldwell ordered him to the sideline? Did you see the look on the faces of the other Colts players? They looked sick, like they felt their coach betrayed them, which of course he did.
 
If the Colts go on to win the Super Bowl Caldwell will be able to stand behind a lectern, as the coach of a league champion, and defend Sunday's decision with zeal, with complete and total authority. He can look out at the critics and questioners and give a Belichick-ian sneer if he wants. And even the players in the locker room who, like most of us, think right now that the decision stinks will do a total 180 and say their coach knew what he was doing all along. But in the moment, it seems like a crime against the season, a stain on Caldwell's resume. I don't know that I've ever seen a coach deflate his own team the way Caldwell did the Colts yesterday. They wanted to win the game, especially with it being played at home, and the coach didn't care about what they thought.
 
Caldwell is betting that with good health, the Colts will get their groove back. I'll take that bet. The Colts have been here before, in 2005 and 2007, and lost in the first round of the playoffs, to the Steelers and Chargers specifically. Caldwell is betting that the Colts can stay championship sharp through film study and practice, perhaps some light scrimmaging. I'll take that bet. I'll bet that the Colts won't be able to turn it off and then back on, especially with the players so massively disappointed. I'll take that bet and the Chargers or Steelers or Patriots in the AFC half of the playoffs.
 
The great change-of-direction the season has taken is that the Saints and Colts no longer feel like the favorites. I wouldn't be surprised one bit if the Saints don't win another game this season. Hell, you can't get any worse than losing at home to Tampa Bay, which the Saints did Sunday. Now, it figures they'll rest everybody in a season-ending loss at Carolina next week, then after a bye-week wind up losing their very first playoff game. Wouldn't surprise me if the Colts exit ASAP either. Would I take them, even playing at home, against the Patriots in mid-January? Not a chance.
 
Too bad the NFL season has come to this, to such massive disappointment. Monday will require some research; I want to find out how many minutes (relative to his average minutes played that season) that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen played in the games after the 1996 Chicago Bulls wrapped up home-court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs. The Bulls went on to win a record 72 games that season. I want to see if Phil Jackson cut Jordan's and Pippen's minutes significantly after wins 69, 69, 70 or 71. I doubt it, but I want to see what the facts are.
 
What also comes into play here is the Colts already have a championship in the Manning era. Why, with one of the best quarterbacks in history and roster loaded with Pro Bowl players, would you be afraid to go after greatness. Why wouldn't you, especially with a championship already in pocket, try for the most elusive mark in pro football history? Why wouldn't a coach, if supported by his players as Caldwell seems to be, want to be bold and encouraging? If the Colts had been down 35-17 in the fourth quarter and the Jets pass rushers had teed off on Manning a couple of times, okay, pull him. Go to Painter in the bullpen and concede the loss. But the way it played out was so distasteful. From the time Manning left the field the Jets outscored the Colts 19-0 the rest of the game, which speaks to how dispirited the team was in the absence of the franchise player. If the Colts, come January 16 or 17, can't find their game or find the rust is too thick it won't be difficult in the least to know where to point the finger...at Jim Caldwell, the man who decided it was okay to not try.
By

Michael Wilbon

 |  December 27, 2009; 8:28 PM ET  |  Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Dear Mike Wilbon:

I'm with you in decrying this silliness by Coach Caldwell. From what he did last week by benching Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Clark, Joseph addai, it stands to reason that he will do the same thing again this coming weekend, otherwise the criticism of him will deepen and actually grow to involve some of his players joining to criticize him.

So, by benching these Starters again --even if Caldwell plays them sparingly-- therein sets the rust.

Moreover, the San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, and the Vikes --all in the Playoffs-- will now view that benching, instead of going for a perfect 16-0, as arrogance, and one of them will stop at nothing to make the Colts pay. At least these 4 high caliber Teams now know that if they succeed in rattling those pulled Colts Starters to submission, their next Game against the Colts is winnable. And if they succeed, for sure Mister Caldwell will look sooo stupid!

Posted by: ezewuiheyahoocom | December 31, 2009 9:06 AM
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Mr. Wilbon,
I don't know if this is the appropriate venue, buy can you explain why the Post doesn't just state the facts about attendance at Redskins games? All year, if you've watched on TV, you have seen more and more empty seats, but the Post reporters won't tell us what the actual attendance is... You tell us what the "reported" attendance is (including the parenthesis so we feel like we are in on the joke), and sometimes you quote some John Doe guessing that the place was half empty, or whatever, but never an attempt to objectively figure out how many fans showed up. What's up with that? Afraid of the lawyers? May I make a suggestion? At some point during the game (probably not between quarters), do a 360 of the stands and make a rough estimate --- half full? less? For a paper that covers every other aspect of this team to ridiculous detail, why is it you won't report on the actual game attendance figures?

Posted by: clocker58 | December 30, 2009 9:18 PM
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The Colts were on a roll, they had a chance to be great, and management stepped on it. Why should the players care if their bosses don't? If I were a Colts player, I'd be humiliated. The fire is gone and the Colts will lose in the first round.

Posted by: chipgower | December 29, 2009 5:05 PM
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IF the Colts get to the the SB, Caldwell is a genius and all will be forgotten. But, based on past experiences...they won't. They got dumped twice in the early rounds after "resting their starters" and won when they had to play out the full schedule. Also, if your purpose is to to prevent injury to your key players, why play them at all? It's failed logic and dismissive to reality to play them for a half or 3 quarters. Manning could just as easily get hurt on the first play as the last. And as for Belichek and the Pats against the Giants...the reason the Pats lost the game is because some guy caught a pass with his helmet, NOT because of playing out the regular season as if it meant something.

Posted by: wydafish | December 29, 2009 2:03 PM
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Wilbon, Coach Jim Caldwell showed more integrity in sitting down his starters in hopes of preserving them for the team's Superbowl run. It's too bad that the Colts second team offensive players are more like the first team Washington Redskins or Chicago Bears offenses ---pathetic ! Jim Caldwell's honesty is clear in placing emphasis on winning the NFL Championship and not capitulating to glory seeking desk jockeys like you who have probably never even put on a jock strap and played a team sport.

Posted by: ellislawoffice | December 28, 2009 7:03 PM
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TBH (and with a British viewpoint), Caldwell didn't just let down his players, he let down the whole league and especially the other teams playing for a playoff spot. Yes, we've seen it before and yes he was 'protecting' his players (including a QB who has barely suffered a scratch during 191 consecutive starts!), but this smacks of throwing the whole idea of sporting integrity under the bus. Playing to win, yes. Playing not to get hurt? What kind of league is this?

Posted by: SimonV | December 28, 2009 6:36 PM
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counterpoint...if they win the championship and manning is mvp for that game, does the coach look genius for preserving his superstar qb of potential injury in a meaningless game(in the realm of winning championships), the game they all start the season having asperations to play in?

Posted by: joerutgens72 | December 28, 2009 6:19 PM
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Typical Colts. Play it safe, and fear going for the monumental. It makes the Saints and the Patriots look almost heroic, if I can use that phrase speaking about jocks. One thing I can say - the Colt alienated a large section of the nation by their decision. Before this, many were only indifferent. Now, it'll be good to see them lose.

Posted by: xSamplex | December 28, 2009 6:08 PM
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Dcv704

You dont pay anything, you watch them on TV. Its just as many people who will call the coach a fool if one of his players gets hurt trying to go undefeated then lose in the playoffs because of a injured key player. Who cares about undefeated. The patriots went undefeated all the way to the superbowl. How did that turn out? Anal fans are the only ones to complain. Wilbon would flip and write an article about how dumb it was to play your players if one gets hurt. Thats kind of like saying if a basketball player has 75 points in a game and his team is up by 30 his coach is obligated to the fans to keep playing him until the end of the game to see if he can get 100. Ask any fan what they want their team to do at the beginning of each season and they will say win the superbowl, not go undefeated.

Posted by: ged0386 | December 28, 2009 5:46 PM
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Hey Wilbon, if a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to witness it, does it make noise?

Figure that one out and write your next column and blog about that if you have nothing worthwhile to write about.

Yer stinking Bears might as well pack it up and give the Vikings a shot of getting the #1 seed and the Lions a worse draft choice for next season.

Posted by: vmrg1974 | December 28, 2009 5:29 PM
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I think the Colts conceding the game damages the integrity of the playoff process. The Jets might well make the playoffs only because of the Colts pulling their starters, and perhaps Cincinnati taking it easy on them next week. I hope the Jets knock the Colts out in the playoffs.

Posted by: frankisallin | December 28, 2009 2:27 PM

I almost hit the "REPORT OFFENSIVE COMMENT" button because of how offensively stupid the above comment was. I agree with every word of the Wilbon column, but the above comment from Frankisallin is one of the dumbest things I have ever read. Have you never watched an end of reg season game in the NBA or NFL in which the coach of the team already locked into the playoffs with nothing more to play for benches his stars? This happens every year, in every pro sport.

Get a clue.

Posted by: Barno1 | December 28, 2009 4:48 PM
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and on top of that 16-0 doesn't win the whole thing....

Posted by: joerutgens72 | December 28, 2009 4:37 PM
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it was a no win for the colts coach in either direction. manning gets hurt, everyone questions his intelligence. the way he chose to go everyone questions his heart. if they make through to the super bowl, the potential for manning being there is greater now than if he had suffered even a nagging injury. could the colts win the championship without manning?

Posted by: joerutgens72 | December 28, 2009 4:32 PM
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vmrg1974

Wilbon like most of todays sports writers need something to rant about so they can write an article that someone will actually read. Now if they would have played the whole game, lost and a key player, say clark, wayne or manning got injured what would Wilbon be writing about? How dumb it was for the same coach to have played them and risk losing them for the playoffs. Thats the beauty of being a sportswriter, like weathermen they can be wrong and still act as if they knew what they were talking about all along by just waiting for the outcome then writing about it either way.

Posted by: ged0386 | December 28, 2009 4:26 PM
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I think the Colts conceding the game damages the integrity of the playoff process. The Jets might well make the playoffs only because of the Colts pulling their starters, and perhaps Cincinnati taking it easy on them next week. I hope the Jets knock the Colts out in the playoffs.

Posted by: frankisallin | December 28, 2009 2:27 PM
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So Wilbon feels he is in his right to criticize Caldwell for pulling out starters in a meaningless game and he talks about "integrirty" and "honesty?"

This is the same Wilbon who basically told everyone to STFU on Tiger Woods and his 12 hookers? Where is the Wilbon message on "honesty" and integrity" there?

STFU Wilbon, please just STFU.

Posted by: vmrg1974 | December 28, 2009 2:23 PM
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I,m cool with it for even if they did go undefeated they would have gotten nothing for it save the press kissing there tails telling them how great they could be. now none of those dumb question and a little peace while getting ready to win the super bowl for that what really matter

Posted by: lostdogrwd1011 | December 28, 2009 2:19 PM
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Play the game with your best team on the field. That's what they all get paid to do. I totally disagree with the coach's decision to pull arguably the best quarterback in the league at getting rid of the ball quickly. Chance of getting hurt? Of course, it's football. Probability of getting hurt? Slim and none - just look at the prior games this season.

Greatness knocks only once if you're lucky AND good. The Colts have been both. From a fan's point of view, bad decision to take away the chance for greatness.

Posted by: BenThere | December 28, 2009 2:17 PM
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What ever happened to having an obligation to history? So you pull your stars so they won't get turf toe, but what about us fans who want to see history made? What about us who pay an arm and a leg to see the stars and maybe be a part of an historical event like going undefeated. Shame of the Colts for taking that away from the fans!!!!!

Posted by: Dcv704 | December 28, 2009 2:12 PM
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The Colts surrender goes to the integrity of the game. It is unacceptable to the teams competing against the Jets for a playoff spot that the Jets get a 'gimme' game. Where is the outcry from the Commish over competetive balance. From Belichik cheating (yeah, he did) to this, we are losing the integrity of the game. When gone, we have professional wrestling!

Posted by: PatsFan23 | December 28, 2009 1:35 PM
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Michael, you are absolutely right. Dishonorable is the perfect word. Notwithstanding the players, I feel bad for the fans who paid dearly to see than abomination. It's one thing if your team is just bad. It's another thing entirely to essentially forfeit the game. I'm a Ravens season ticket holder. Losing is bad enough. But, if they did that to me after what I pay for my seats, I would have my tickets up for sale before breakfast on Monday. I also agree that the Colts are done. I don't see them in the AFC title game. I'll take that bet right alongside you. And, never again, will Caldwell's players trust or respect him and if I'm the owner I toss Caldwell and his boss now. Simply inexcusable.

Posted by: POPS1 | December 28, 2009 12:31 PM
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I agree - very disappointing. Especially given the obvious body language Manning and company were displaying as the game slipped away - for what? Rest? I thought that's what the first round bye was for? Regardless, I hope they put together a good playoff run with what could be a very good AFC championship between them and San Diego but, you never know how these things will play out. Tune in..

Posted by: JBuss | December 28, 2009 12:16 PM
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Scared money does not make any money. You play scared in anything you will lose. You play all out to win every game. I have never seen any team anywhere rest their players and win a championship (okay maybe pitchers in baseball), but that is okay as that is good for their arms. Players in football need to play as they have routines that they believe in. The Colts lost all hope of winning a super bowl yesterday. I can see resting an injured player to help him heal, but what they did yesterday was criminal to the game. Plus Manning was my fantasy QB. Good thing I switched as I won my super bowl with Alex Smith. What a disgrace and you can only coach scared so long before it catches up with you. Caldwell you won't be there long.

Posted by: jlwadd123 | December 28, 2009 11:52 AM
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First, Peyton has NEVER missed a game in his career. I think it's more than a very safe bet that he won't get injured.

Second, the Colts have shown in the past, as pointed out by Wilbon, that it is to their DETRIMENT to rest players in this fashion. They lose their "mojo" and enter the playoffs out of sync.

If a player has a significant injury that rest would help, then sit him. But if your guys are relatively healthy, play them!

Posted by: gkronenberg | December 28, 2009 11:39 AM
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Wilbon! This is crap. Since when does winning out the regular season compare to increasing your chances in the playoffs? Seriously! Do you think the 2007 Patriots really care about their perfect regular season sans the Superbowl victory? Honorable? How about smart. Colts did the right thing.

Posted by: demontage | December 28, 2009 11:24 AM
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Besides what Wilbon wrote above, the Colts decision to tank is unfair to the teams competing with the Jets for a wild card spot.

Posted by: kratt52 | December 28, 2009 11:23 AM
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The difference between football and other sports: injury at any time. Clinton Portis, done for the season with one hit. If Payton was left in, you'd be writing an article about what an idiot Cauldwell was to leave him in a "meaningless game". Where is Tony, you simply can't do this alone.

Posted by: KDSmallJr | December 28, 2009 10:53 AM
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Resting Payton Manning was the right decision. Tony Dungy agrees. Enough of you already. Where is Tony? You need him bad.....

Posted by: KDSmallJr | December 28, 2009 10:50 AM
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is there an email address for Roger Goodell?

Posted by: eaglesclaw121 | December 28, 2009 10:40 AM
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It is DISGRACEFUL what the Colts organization did yesterday. Aside from cheating the fans, they essentially THREW the game. The NFL needs to crack down on this crap.

Posted by: eaglesclaw121 | December 28, 2009 10:39 AM
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Mercury Morris isn't mad.

Posted by: jbworldwide | December 28, 2009 10:28 AM
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OneWhoSpeaksTruth wrote: "The real question is: When will the 1972 Dolphins finally be accepted as the greatest team in NFL history?"

They are accepted as the only undefeated champion in NFL history.

But "the greatest team" is a subjective matter, and in the opinion of, well, everybody except Dolphin fans they aren't even close to "the greatest team in NFL history." They ran the table against an extremely weak schedule - the cumulative winning percentage of their regular season opponents was .361. They played 2 games against teams with a winning record, 3 games against teams with a .500 record, and 9 games with a collective record of .266.

Could they have scored on the 85 Bears? Could they have stopped the 97 Patriots? Could they have come within two touchdowns of the Walsh-era 49er teams? Could they have competed against the 66 Packers?

What they accomplished was extremely remarkable, but to call them the greatest team in NFL history would be like calling this year's Cincinnati team the greatest team in college football history.

Posted by: kemp13 | December 28, 2009 10:26 AM
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The thing I don't understand is why did Caldwell choose to remove the players in the 3rd quarter rather than just not playing them at all? Why, if the game meant nothing to him (clearly it did not), did he not elect to bench the players from the get-go? Injuries happen in the first half of games, too.

Posted by: jrizzo5751 | December 28, 2009 10:19 AM
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Three crucial characteristics we now know the Indianapolis Colts lack: a sense of history, a drive for greatness, and a backup quarterback.

Teams owe it to their fans and ALL fans to play to win. By giving up yesterday (and they DID give up), they gave the Jets an unexpected win, which changed the AFC wild card picture quite a bit.

Posted by: kemp13 | December 28, 2009 10:07 AM
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Like posting accurate injury reports, the commissioner's office should mandate that team's announce their intentions in regards of voluntarily removing their starting QB and others during a regular season game.

But under Goddell's watch that will never happen because he does not give a F*&k about the on-field product. He's nothing but a social worker. He doesn't care whether the fans get ripped off (i.e. his support for PSL's and the creation of a scalping system for tickets), refuses to provide basic game information (referee assignments not given the week before the games), and thus we get what happened yesterday in Indianapolis. Yet this clown is now pushing for an 18 game schedule.

Considering the way the NFL promotes fantasy football, all you fantasy folks should be raising hell for this happening during your playoffs. As for us gamblers, we've learned a long time ago to stay away form these kinds of games or go the opposite way. Thus the line drop yesterday from IND - 5/ to IND -3.

Posted by: ARCstats | December 28, 2009 9:47 AM
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"Someone, ANYONE, please tell me how, if college went to a playoff, the end of the college season would be different from the end of the NFL season. The end of the NFL season is a JOKE and an INSULT to fans of all teams."

There are even less regular season games in college football than the NFL and each and everyone of them would still matter for qualifying and seeding, I GUARANTEE it.

Posted by: thedude1974 | December 28, 2009 9:12 AM
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Doesn't happen often but I whole heartedly agree with Wilbon on this one. Disgraceful and cowardly decision by Caldwell and I wish Manning had pulled a Favre on his arse. I'll be rooting for the bye week against the Colts in the first round.

Posted by: thedude1974 | December 28, 2009 9:07 AM
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Thanks Mike for hitting the nail on the head. This is bigger than Caldwell however. The ball is Roger Goodell's court now. This is an integrity issue that the NFL cannot tolerate. Felipe Alou benched starters a few years ago giving a competing NL team favored treatment in the last series of the seasons. Giving up, benching players because of having a good record is totally unacceptable. Nothing short of NFL league sanctions will fix this disgrace. How must the fans of the Texans, Steelers etc. feel this morning now that the Jets got this big mulligan and willget into the playoffs, undeservedly so, if they beat the Bengals at home next week. Its a disgrace for the entire NFL.

Posted by: RichmondFan | December 28, 2009 8:56 AM
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You're 20+ years too late to complain about the Colts. I gave up on football when they literally sneaked out of Baltimore in the middle of the night. THAT was a disgrace.

Posted by: jckdoors | December 28, 2009 8:43 AM
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Bummer...I hope they lose the first game in the playoffs. Bad KARMA will take over now for not playing to win LOSERS!

Posted by: LongTimeSkinsFan | December 28, 2009 8:27 AM
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Thank God 'Choose to Lose'has replaced 'Refuse to Lose.' Wait until I tell my boss it's ok to give less than you best effort.

Posted by: ted13 | December 28, 2009 8:20 AM
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When Belichick and the Patriots went for it in 2007 and played that amazing game against the Giants to end the season, no one thought that they would face that Giants team again in the Super Bowl. That regular season game may have given the Giants the knowledge and confidence they needed to defeat what was thought to be a huge favorite. Maybe Caldwell was looking down the road and decided he didn't want the give the Jets anything to look at. The Jets beat them yes, but they know they didn't beat their A team. The Giants knew they had stood toe to toe with New England's best, and so must have believed more than the 'experts' that they could win, which they did.

Posted by: pbuckley1 | December 28, 2009 8:20 AM
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Tough to argue with you, Mike. I watched as much of the Colts game as I could (RedZone). After all that hard work - off season work outs, OTA's, practices, pre-season, 14 regular season games, etc. - the Colts elected to stop trying. Clearly, the bitterness was written all over the players faces. Every so often, people arrive at a historic cross road. In every way imaginable, I was disappointed with Caldwell's decision. Winning a Superbowl will not vindicate him. He passed on the road to greatness.

Posted by: wp264 | December 28, 2009 7:58 AM
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"The real question is: When will the 1972 Dolphins finally be accepted as the greatest team in NFL history?"
====================
Is that you, Mercury?

Posted by: RichinVA | December 28, 2009 7:48 AM
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Someone, ANYONE, please tell me how, if college went to a playoff, the end of the college season would be different from the end of the NFL season. The end of the NFL season is a JOKE and an INSULT to fans of all teams.

Posted by: IndyJeff2020 | December 28, 2009 6:56 AM
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Well someone once said, who was the only person to ever hold Michael Jordan to under 20 points a game. Answer...Dean Smith his college coach. At least Dean wanted Jordan to play within the team concept of a team loaded with superstars. His results spoke for themselves.

Now the question is "Who could do to the 2009 Colts what no other NFL team they faced could, demoralize and beat them. Answer...Jim Caldwell. Unlike Smith who forced a talented young budding college star to make his teammates even better, Caldwell has forced his greatest warrior (along with several other key pieces of a championship-caliber team) to quit on their fans.

Every coach and team in the league knows the only way to beat Peyton is to keep him on the sidelines, but none were capable...until JC. I'm a die hard Colts fan and I am truly disgusted.

Posted by: bew795 | December 28, 2009 12:19 AM
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Manning should go POSTAL .....and bring some of his Bayou Voodoo on Caldwell .....

Posted by: FletcherChristian1 | December 27, 2009 11:08 PM
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Disgusting. Give the fans their money back and fire the coach.
Would Lombardi EVER have even CONSIDERED such a move? What if you don't get to the superbowl? You deliberately flushed a perfect season, and they don't come easy.

Coach was trying to throw his weight around and basically threw the game. He should be investigated. Gee, now everybody knows what a big man you are, you can make the Colts lose.
Fire him. Give the fans their money back.
The Colts management hasn't had any ethics since they sneaked out of Baltimore in the dead of night.

Posted by: Beckola | December 27, 2009 10:48 PM
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The real question is: When will the 1972 Dolphins finally be accepted as the greatest team in NFL history?

Posted by: OneWhoSpeaksTruth | December 27, 2009 10:42 PM
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the question is......will the Redskins pull their starters next year when they are 0-15.

Posted by: smc635 | December 27, 2009 9:51 PM
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Wilbon, I agree whole-heartedly w/ this entire piece. Peyton's face told the whole story. He looked like he either wanted to throw up or punch the coach, maybe both. The Colts basically forfeited the game in the second half and lost all the mojo that they'd built up over a brilliant season. I've never liked the philosophy of sitting your starters down the stretch. It's playing scared and usually results in the team regressing in the playoffs. I see the Chargers in the Super Bowl....

Posted by: randysbailin | December 27, 2009 8:55 PM
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