Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Resting the starters
There were two teams sitting in an interesting position going into the final week of the NFL's regular season -- the Giants and the Colts.

The Giants had locked up their playoff spot as an NFC Wild Card, with a 10-5 record. Nothing they did the the final week -- against the unbeaten Patriots, would change their playoff position. The Giants knew they had the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, eight days after the Patriots game.

They had an opportunity to rest their players. To play backups. To treat the game as meaningless.

But instead, coach Tom Coughlin had his team go all out. In my opinion, it was respect for the game and its history. They may not be able to keep the Patriots from the first perfect regular season in the league since 1972, but they'd sure give it a try.

As it turned out, the Giants played a great game that Saturday night, with most of America watching. They lost the game, and the Patriots completed their perfect season. But somehow, the Giants seemed to gain momentum from the game.

Less than 24 hours after that game ended, Tony Dungy led his aching Colts into a home game against their division rival, the Titans.

The game was meaningless for the Colts, who had already wrapped up the No. 2 seed in the AFC. It was far from meaningless for the Titans, who could clinch a playoff spot -- the league's final one -- with a win.

While a Colts win meant little to Indianapolis, it meant everything to a team to the northeast. The Browns finished their season 10-6, but needed the Colts to win to get a playoff spot.

But the Colts were cautious. Star quarterback Peyton Manning sat after one quarter, and most of their starters were gone by halftime. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the Titans, playing for their playoff lives, won -- barely.

Here we are two weeks later. The Giants, the second lowest seed in the NFC, are still in the hunt. After beating Tampa Bay and Dallas -- both on the road, New York will challenge Green Bay for the NFC title Sunday.

The Colts were bounced in the divisional round by the Chargers.

Maybe the extra rest had nothing to do with the Colts losing. But all I know is this: The Giants played every game to win, even when they didn't need one.

The Colts -- for the second time in three years -- took a deep breath.

It's possible, maybe even likely, that the decisions made by the respective coaches in the final weeks of the season have nothing to do with where their teams are now.

But, then again ...



At 7:54 AM , Anonymous Erik said...

The big difference is that the Pats-Giants game on the season's final weekend wasn't a garbage game. The Giants were the final out of a perfect game; they didn't want to be the answer to a trivia question. They had every reason in the world to play hard.

The Colts were 13-2 heading into what was truly a garbage game. I know we're all on our high horses as Browns fans now, gloating at the Colts' misfortune in light of the fact that they tanked the season's final game and, by extension, screwed the Browns over. But the Colts had no impetus to compete. They were playing to keep their starters healthy, which they did. All of the 20-20 hindsight in the world will never change that.

We can point and laugh at the Colts all we want. The Browns still blew their own chance to make it in. They were still their own worst enemy, not the Colts.

At 8:39 AM , Blogger Joel said...

Thank you, Erik. ...

At 12:58 AM , Blogger Zach said...

Joel, I'm dying to know. What's next? You left me hanging with that ...
Seriously, I won't be able to sleep.


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