On Sunday afternoon, up 15-10 over the Jets in the third quarter, Jim Caldwell decided that it was time to pull Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts' starters because he didn't want to risk injury before the playoffs. This decision angered Peyton Manning, it angered the Colts' hometown fans, and it angered the sports media.
But while Caldwell's decision may not have been the most exciting, and it may not have been the most popular, it was absolutely the right decision. Why? Because in the NFL, 16 and 0 means absolutely nothing, but Super Bowl championships mean absolutely everything.
As proof, let's take a look back at the 2007 New England Patriots -- remember them? Like the 2009 Colts, the '07 Patriots started 14-0, and had clinched everything by week 16. But unlike the '09 Colts, the '07 Pats went for perfection, and they got it.
At 16-0, the '07 Pats were the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to complete a perfect regular season, and the first team ever to complete a 16-0 regular season (the NFL expanded the regular season from 14 to 16 games in 1978).
At the time, the sports media couldn't find enough superlatives to describe the 2007 Patriots. Great, awesome, incredible, flawless, unbeatable -- they just couldn't put it into words. This was the greatest team anyone had ever seen, and it was only a matter of time until they cemented their place in NFL history.
However, a strange thing happened on the way to the Lombardi Trophy -- they lost. They lost to a weaker, less talented New York Giants team in Super Bowl XLII, and the 2007 Patriots finished the year at 18-1. Ouch.
But the interesting thing about that team wasn't just that they lost, it was how they lost. Anyone who watched the '07 Pats in the playoffs could tell that they lacked the fire and explosiveness that had been there all season. In fact, you might argue that the team looked tired.
That tired play continued throughout Super Bowl XLII, and by the time the Patriots realized that it was time to play football, it was too late.
After the game, strange as it may seem, no one seemed to care that the Patriots had gone 16-0 (or even 18-0). No one. After Super Bowl XLII the Patriots were no longer 16-0, they were 18-1. They had failed.
Now, let's bring this back to the 2009 Indianapolis Colts.
Let's say you're Jim Caldwell. You're 14-0. You've got a real shot at perfection, but because you remember the 2007 Patriots, you know that pursuing perfection might cost you the Super Bowl. What do you do?
Well, if you value your job, you do everything you can to help the Colts win the Super Bowl. You have no other option.
With all due respect to Herm Edwards, you don't just play to win the game, you play to win THE GAME. You play to win the Super Bowl. You were hired to win the Super Bowl, eventually you will be fired if you don't win the Super Bowl, so you better do everything in your power every second of every day to help your team win the Super Bowl. Period.
And because Jim Caldwell is an intelligent NFL head coach, he knows this, and he coached accordingly.
Could he have taken the risk and gone for perfection? Certainly. Would that have made for a more exciting game? Absolutely. But would it have increased the likelihood that the Colts win the Super Bowl? Probably not -- and that's all that matters.