The unraveling of the Colts’ undefeated season, for an unbiased observer, was painfully tough to watch. Jim Caldwell’s response to the opportunity to do something never done before was to remove Peyton Manning and replace him with someone named Curtis Painter, who ambled on to the field as if he was a contestant pulled from the audience on “The Price is Right.” They had a chance at history, and they didn’t even try. It was hard not to feel cheated.
In 2007, when the Patriots chased a perfect regular season, Bill Belichick played his starters to the end despite having sewn up the No. 1 playoff seed. Caldwell’s decision aggravated those hoping for the drama of another pursuit of 16-0. But it also carried another layer.
The Jets benefited from the mass benching, cruising to an easy victory in the thick of a playoff race. It also punished the other AFC contenders who could be shut out from the playoffs because of the Jets’ inclusion. Had the Jets lost, there would be six teams still vying for an AFC playoff spot, not seven. Imagine being a Denver fan next week if the Jets win again, knowing the Broncos would have made the playoffs had the Colts beaten the Jets. Now that is feeling cheated.
It is only natural to wonder what Belichick, the only coach in the league who can relate to Caldwell, thought of the move. Belichick, of course, likes analyzing other teams like he likes chewing on thumbtacks. Belichick’s first response today to a question about the Colts’ decision was, “The Jets beat them. Good win for the Jets in Indianapolis,” which is an awesomely Belichickian answer.
While Belichick did not specifically address the Colts situation, he sided with the general notion that a team has the right, if not the duty, to choose what is best for itself regardless of the competitive balance in the rest of the league.
“Whatever we did in any other year was what we thought was the best thing to do,” Belichick said. “We did what we thought was best. Whether anybody agrees with it or not, that’s what we did, and that’s what we continue to do.
“I think every team in this league does the same thing that we do. I think they do what’s best for their football team. That’s the only interest that we have. What other interest do we have? We have an interest in our football team. That’s it. Whatever is best for that football team, that organization, that’s what you have a right to do. I think every team has that right. We all play by the same rules.”