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Colts are perfectly happy with results

They’ll take this over 16-0 season

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / January 27, 2010

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INDIANAPOLIS - Colts coach Jim Caldwell can’t hide from the debate.

Not long after Indianapolis secured a spot in Super Bowl XLIV, Caldwell was asked if there was particular satisfaction considering the controversy when he opted for safety over an undefeated season by resting some of his players in Week 16 vs. the Jets.

Caldwell had maintained that his priority was to win a Super Bowl, not go undefeated. So when he pulled Peyton Manning and other starters with a 5-point lead in the third quarter, he faced an enormous amount of scrutiny after the Jets came back to hand the Colts their first loss of the season.

Now the Colts, having beaten the Jets in the AFC Championship game, will face the Saints in the Super Bowl Feb. 7. So does that justify Caldwell’s move?

“I really try not to focus on anything of that nature,’’ Caldwell said. “We weren’t out to prove anything. There was no sense of vindication or retribution; all we’re concerned about is trying to do the best job we can for our team, plain and simple. Not everybody is going to agree with you all of the time.’’

The Colts had a chance to match the 2007 Patriots by going undefeated in the regular season. But if the Colts beat the Saints, the past won’t matter. In December, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady acknowledged that own ing an undefeated record in the regular season was special but winning the Super Bowl would have felt better.

“To experience that was a great experience for our team and everyone that was a part of it,’’ Brady said. “I wish we could have closed the deal, obviously, but that was a great year, and a year we all remember. Just the outcome could have been a little different if it weren’t for a catch on a helmet.’’

David Tyree’s acrobatic catch in Super Bowl XLII kept the Giants’ game-winning drive alive and led to Eli Manning tossing a touchdown pass with 35 seconds left to secure the 17-14 upset victory. The loss prevented the Patriots from matching the 1972 Dolphins by going undefeated for the season. The Saints and Colts flirted with the achievement this season, with the Saints going 13-0 before the Cowboys ended their streak.

The Colts lasted one more week before the loss to the Jets. A week later, the Bills trumped the Colts, 30-7, and some speculated the move to sit the starters as a precaution affected Indianapolis’s morale.

Receiver Reggie Wayne said the state of the team was never in doubt.

“Not a bit, not at all,’’ Wayne said. “Guys were excited. Guys believed in Coach Caldwell’s decisions. He’s done a great job of keeping us fresh. Why go against it now, go against anything this organization does? This team was able to just stick with it, believe in each other, and we got the job done.’’

Three years ago, the Colts brought the first Super Bowl championship to Indianapolis under Tony Dungy. Caldwell was promoted this season to replace Dungy, and he acknowledged this week that filling those shoes is a challenge, considering how much he respects and admires Dungy.

But Caldwell added all he can do is be himself.

“I am who I am,’’ he said. “The other thing, just in terms of [Dungy’s] impact around here and following his footsteps, is that I didn’t have to do it alone. Our assistant coaches have done a great job, our franchise is in place and in firm, solid ground because of [owner] Jim Irsay and [president] Bill Polian and the rest of the guys in personnel, and we have a great staff and great players.

“I never had to do it alone. All I had to do is sort of make certain that I was keeping my promise. I wanted to keep them hungry, fresh, and make certain that they’re well-prepared.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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