Caldwell the Capitulator
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 27, 2009
By Kerry J. Byrne
Chosen Son of the Football Gods
We have neither the physical stamina to be the former nor the mental fortitude to be the latter.
But our limited attempts at long-distance waddling and at studying the physics of phootball have taught us one universal truth: it's easier to maintain momentum than it is to lose momentum and then regain it.
And it's called a universal truth for a reason: it applies to all things equally, whether our feeble efforts to regain momentum when we interrupt our awkward waddle on an overburdened treadmill or the Herculean efforts of a football team to regain the momentum that made it the most well-oiled victory machine in the NFL – and that they voluntarily surrendered live on national television.
Perhaps somebody should have told Jim Caldwell about the universality of this law of physics and about the importance of appeasing the Gods of the game, such as a certain very-pissed-off quarterback who wears No. 18.
In the space of one third-quarter decision in Indy's 29-15 loss to the Jets, Caldwell:
Ended Indy's historic and once-in-a-lifetime quest for the perfect season
Suffered his first loss as a head coach
Audibly sapped the life out of an offense, a defense, an entire building and all of central Indiana.
Pissed off his entire team (body language says everything) and most of his fan base
Injected a big huge dose of chaos around a team that glided blissfully along with none all year, perhaps erasing 4th-and-2 as the most controversial decision of 2009
Committed the cardinal sin in sports of capitulating and ordering his team to take a dive. Sugarcoat it any way you want, but the Colts took a dive.
And most importantly, he voluntarily sabotaged Indy's victory machine and made it less likely that they'll win the Super Bowl after a brilliant 14-0 start to the 2009 season.
Keep in mind that the Colts enjoyed a 15-10 lead at the time that they chose to pack it in. Victory was at hand and they just gave it all away.
The Colts may have even lost the Eye of the Tiger. Back in our youth, you couldn't do anything without the Eye of the Tiger. And you know we waste no opportunity to swim in a sea of iconic 1980s pop:
show video here
But other than those minor little issues, sacrificing history, pissing off the team, embarrassing an entire state, taking a dive, and harming his team's chances to win the Super Bowl, it was a good decision.
The failed logic of playing not to get hurt
The reasons to keep fighting are enumerated above. The decision to capitulate, meanwhile, is based upon one hypothetical scenario: the chance that you might lose a key player to injury. You don't risk injury to your stars when they're sitting on the sidelines.
But we don't buy that excuse or that "logic."
First, there's only one guy you can't risk losing: Peyton Manning. And last we checked, he's one of the great ironmen in the history of the sport: an awesome 191 consecutive starts since his very first game his rookie year. He has never missed a game, and he rarely gets touched. In fact, he was sacked a league-low 10 times entering Week 16.
So, yes, there's a chance that Manning would trip over Jeff Saturday's foot and snap his knee. But he has the same chance in practice. Should Manning sit out practice, too?
Second, we'd gamble with the fates: if they're determined to take out your star quarterback, let them do it and go down swinging. It's a better option than what the Colts have done: choosing to sap momentum from the team.
The chances of Indy suffering from a loss of momentum are much greater than the team's chances of losing Manning to a critical injury.
In the big scheme of things, you could justify the first six bullet points enumerated above. But it's the last, it's the fact that Caldwell has damaged Indy's Super Bowl chances, that makes his decision indefensible.
The Week Ahead
Now the Colts go on the road to Buffalo for what will likely be a cold- or bad-weather game against a team that entered Week 16 with the top pass defense in football (the Bills will fall to No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating, behind the Jets, when our updated Quality Stats are published Tuesday).
So what are the chances Manning and the "stars" will spend much time on the field in that situation, against that team and that defense and possibly in foul conditions?
Just about none.
The coach already announced to the nation on Sunday that winning these final games does not matter. The coach has already proven he wants to baby his players.
Plus, he'd be a hypocrite who would open himself up for even more criticism if he capitulated against the Jets one week and then decided to fight to the end the next week. If anything, you fight it out against the Jets and then capitulate against the Bills in the bad weather.
In either case, the Colts might lose again to the Bills. At the very least, we know they won't fight to the finish. So that will be two weeks in a row without playing a meaningful game.
Two Weeks Ahead
After a likely loss to the Bills, the Colts "enjoy" a bye week during the wildcard round of the playoffs.
We say "enjoy" because, as we've noted earlier this year, the bye week no longer matters. The last four Super Bowl winners all played on wildcard weekend. And it's been years since a No. 1 seed like the Colts won the Super Bowl. The 2003 Patriots were the last.
So the bye week hasn't helped teams in recent years. The equivalent of three bye weeks can't help the cause, either.
Three Weeks Ahead
The Colts will take the field for their next meaningful game in the divisional playoffs on Jan. 16 or 17. They will have last competed in football game back on Dec. 17, in their 35-31 win over the Jaguars – a win we lustily praised.
So that means the Colts will have gone an ENTIRE MONTH – 20 percent of the entire NFL season – without playing a meaningful football game, without their stars fighting to the finish, without enjoying the momentum-building taste of a hard-fought victory.
Even worse? Any of the teams that will walk into Indy on Jan. 16 or 17 are capable of beating the Colts. In fact, there's a good chance that they could host either one of the two teams that have tortured them for much of the decade:
New England -- The Patriots dominated the Colts for three quarters and were six inches away from beating Indy back in November. They're playing their best football here in December and they destroyed two of Indy's toughest division rivals (Tennessee and Jacksonville) by a combined score of 94-7.
Pittsburgh -- The Steelers still have an outside shot at the playoffs and they are the defending Super Bowl champs. They boast the best play-making QB in football and they proved in 2005 that they could walk into Indy as a playoff underdog and beat the Colts.
The Patriots and Steelers have won five of the decade's nine Super Bowls and they're the two teams that keep the Colts from claiming "team of the decade" status. Call us crazy, but we like the New England's and Pittsburgh's chances in that game.
The other potential opponents after a month without playing in anger?
N.Y. Jets -- The team that just beat the Colts boasts the NFL's top-ranked scoring defense (15.7 PPG) and the league's top-ranked pass defense (61.0 Defensive Passerr Rating). It's a unit that played fairly well against Manning and Indy's No. 1 offensive unit yesterday: the Colts scored 15 points in 35 minutes of play, while Manning was held without a touchdown pass for just the third time in two seasons.
Baltimore -- This is another stout defensive club, No. 2 in scoring defense (16.5 PPG), No. 3 in our Defensive Hog Index, No. 5 in Defensive Passer Rating (70.7 after Week 16) and among the league leaders in point differential (+122 points). The Ravens were one game away from winning the AFC title last year.
Cincinnati -- The Bengals are the least impressive team of any of Indy's potential challengers. But they do boast one of the league's top defenses (16.9 PPG).
San Diego -- The Colts would only face the Chargers, if at all, in the AFC title game. The Chargers, you might remember, handed Indy each of its past two one-and-done playoff embarrassments in 2007 and 2008. The Chargers are also officially the "hottest team in football" and could enter Indy with an NFL-best 12-game win streak.
One way or the other, Indy will be forced to regain its long-lost momentum against a formidable quarterback or a formidable defense.
Remember, this is not an Indianapolis team that has dominated its opponents. Seven of its 14 victories have come by seven points or less. Three teams boast a greater scoring differential this year than Indy's +132: New Orleans (+182), New England (+149) and Green Bay (+138).
Also remember, the Colts are a team haunted by a long list of playoff failures. They've won more games this decade than any team in any decade in NFL history (115). But they're a sub.-500 team in the playoffs in the Manning Era (7-8) and they've produced six one-and-done postseason appearances. Anything less than a conference championship is unacceptable, and inconceivable, after a 14-0 start, and anything less would cement this team's rep as one of the great under-achieving outfits in NFL history.
(The Trolls certainly side with the Cold, Hard Football Facts. The Fabulous Football Forum is filled with angry Colts fans ripping the team for its indefensible decision.)
So, other than taking a dive, sabotaging his team's effort to make history, harming his team's ability to win the Super Bowl and defying the universal truths of the cosmos, we stand by Caldwell's decision – much like his stony-faced team does today.
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