Watching Peyton Manning get pulled out of a close game against a good defense seems unthinkable on the surface.
When the unthinkable happened Sunday afternoon I thought I could hear the moans and groans of all the people I know here in suburban Indianapolis who live and die with the Colts. And then the predictable happened when untested rookie Curtis Painter looked like, well, an untested rookie in coughing away Indy’s chances at a perfect season against the New York Jets.
In an otherwise euphoric atmosphere surrounding the Colts this year, the negative commentary directed at Colts head coach Jim Caldwell was palpable even before the blogs and columns were posted.
As a football fan it certainly would have been fascinating to see the Colts go for the perfect season heading into the playoffs. You can also make the argument that the team has an obligation to its fans and ticket holders who shell out big bucks to come to the games.
Caldwell, however, isn’t a fan.
This team isn’t all excited about having a chance to just make it to the postseason. Barring an injury to Manning making it to the playoffs was essentially a given when training camp started.
He was presented with a no-win situation to keep Manning – and other key starters – and risk injury in an otherwise meaningless game or keep the ultimate goal of winning three postseason games with everyone at maximum health.
Former Colts coach Tony Dungy was left to defend Caldwell in his new job (which he does a great job of) as an analyst on the set on NBC’s Sunday Night Football posing the question about Manning smashing a finger on a teammate’s helmet on a follow-through of a pass. Then, obviously, with Super Bowl aspirations in tatters, the criticism would be ladled on in a different direction.
Ultimately, I believe he’s right. There are greater goals for the team in mind than risking disaster over an outcome that will have no bearing on the ultimate accomplishment. Not to get too carried away here, but how often do we sacrifice a larger goal for short-term gratification? If you’re raising your hand that you’ve never done that, I’m dubious.
Undoubtedly perfection would have been a great accomplishment. Manning was unquestionably angry and I understand why. However, coaches, like business leaders (and yes, the NFL is ultimately a business, don’t kid yourself) must sometimes make otherwise unpopular decisions to steer things in what they see as the needed direction.
Even if you disagree with Caldwell with your heart, his decision should be respected with your head.