Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell: Late-Season Decisions a "Delicate Balancing Act"
INDIANAPOLIS – A day later, Jim Caldwell said there were no regrets.
Caldwell, in his first season as the Colts' head coach, said he understood the disappointment of fans in the last two days. He said in a very real sense he shared the disappointment.
That, Caldwell said, is because the Colts lost Sunday. And he said the Colts always want to win.
But Caldwell called approaching the end of the season "a delicate balancing act," and while he understood the decision to not play quarterback Peyton Manning and other offensive starters late in a loss to the New York Jets Sunday was controversial, he said it was made with the idea of better preparing for the postseason. That, Caldwell said, was the Colts' primary goal all season.
And that, he said, hasn't changed.
"We're all disappointed," Caldwell said Monday, a day after the Jets scored the final 19 points in a 29-15 victory over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"I understand the fans, how they feel. Every player on our squad is disappointed every time we lose one. It's not something we're accustomed to."
The Colts, who two weeks before clinched the AFC's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, played all healthy players for the first two and a half quarters against the Jets, but with 5:36 remaining, Manning, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark left the game.
Backup quarterback Curtis Painter, taking his first NFL regular-season snaps, completed 4 of 11 passes for 44 yards with an interception, and on the first play of Painter's second series, Jets linebacker Calvin Pace sacked him. The sack forced a fumble that defensive end Marques Douglas recovered for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Colts managed just 34 fourth-quarter yards, and the Jets pulled away to give Indianapolis its first loss of the season. A victory would have made the Colts the second team in NFL history to start a season 15-0, and only two teams – the 2007 New England Patriots and the 1972 Miami Dolphins have finished a regular season unbeaten and untied.
"It was never an issue for us," Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said of an unbeaten regular season. "We never bought into the whole undefeated season. Our goals are still intact."
The Colts, who visit the Buffalo Bills (5-10) in the regular-season finale Sunday, then have a first round bye before playing host to an AFC Divisional Playoff January 16-17.
"I think more so than anything else, we have to look at our preparation during the course of the week, which will not change," Caldwell said of the Colts' approach this week. "We'll work to make certain that we stay sharp in those areas. Obviously, we anticipate that we'll play that game much the same as we did the one yesterday; maybe not entirely, exactly, the same – some things could change – but obviously, right now, where we are is that we're in the playoffs, we have home-field advantage, and our next quest is making certain that we're in great position to do well in the playoffs."
Caldwell said Sunday's decision to play starters one second-half series came down to being prudent about potential injury as the postseason approached.
"When you look at it, we clinched (the AFC South) after Week 11, which was early," he said. "That was too early, obviously, to start to pull back. So, we played the games just like you would anticipate we would, and even last week in Jacksonville (a 35-31 Colts victory). But then there comes a time where you have to make a determination on when you're starting to get close, in particular trying to make certain that you're as healthy as you possibly could be."
Said Brackett, "A healthy team is a better football team. We're better with those guys 100 percent. The most imant thing is being 3-0 in the postseason."
Caldwell said an example of the reasoning behind the thinking was WR-Pierre Garcon, who sustained a hand injury against Jacksonville and is expected back for the first playoff games.
"Had Pierre gotten hurt yesterday, he wouldn't have made it to the first round of the divisional (playoffs)," Caldwell said. "I think you have to take some of those things into consideration and plot your course from there. Make a decision and live with it."
Caldwell said while he understands the decision was controversial, and that fans may have been disappointed with the outcome, he also said such issues are "why you get so much interest."
"I think like anything else in our sport, because it is so visible and has such high interest and great fan level, that there is always going to be several different ways to look at it," Caldwell said. "I think that's always part of the intrigue about it. That's why we have so many people here today. But, nevertheless, the thing that we have to do, in the position that we are in, we have to look at it from our vantage point, look at what is most important to us, look at what we think is going to put us in the best position to be successful in the playoffs.
"That's what we do, and we stand by it and live by it."