Resting Players With Playoff Positioning Clinched the Prudent Approach, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – In this case, Tony Dungy didn't mind the topic.
For the fourth time in five seasons, the Colts will enter the regular-season finale with their postseason positioning clinched, and once again, the Colts' head coach on Tuesday spent time addressing why the team plans to rest many players for various amounts of the game.
It's a time-worn topic around the Colts, and Dungy said many of the same things Tuesday he has said in past seasons. And yet, Dungy said he didn't mind.
After all, there are worse topics.
"It's kind of fun to be answering these questions again," Dungy said as the Colts (11-4) prepared to play the AFC South champion Tennessee Titans (13-2) in the regular-season finale at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Colts, after slipping to 3-4 in late October, have won eight consecutive games, and although they fell short of a sixth consecutive AFC South title, they secured a seventh consecutive postseason appearance with a 31-24 victory at Jacksonville last Thursday.
With the victory, the Colts also clinched the AFC's No. 5 seed and no matter the outcome of their game against Tennessee, the Colts will visit the AFC West Champion in the first round of the playoffs January 3-4.
San Diego (7-8) will play host to Denver (8-7) Sunday, with the winner winning the West.
Because the Colts can finish no better or worse than fifth, they are in a similar situation to the one they faced in 2004, 2005 and 2007, with their regular-season finale having no playoff implications.
Dungy said this week the approach this week is the same as those finales:
1) They will try to win.
2) They will rest players as needed.
Colts center Jeff Saturday said this week he wants to play extensively against Tennessee. He also said he knows his wishes may not much matter.
"I think Coach Dungy is Coach Dungy," Saturday said. "He'll decide whatever he wants to do. He makes the decisions. That's why he's the head coach. He gets to decide. He'll make the decisions. . . .
"You just try to stay sharp. However long Tony makes you play, you play as hard as you can and as well as you can and let him decide where it all ends. From our standpoint, you don't change. When you're in the game, you play as hard as you can."
Said Colts defensive end Raheem Brock, "You just try to keep some momentum going into the playoffs, even though we won't play that much on Sunday. We're vets. We know how to handle it. We've been through it a couple of times before. We're just going to do what we do."
The Colts lost their first postseason game in 2005 and 2007 after taking a similar approach, resting many players late in the season after they had clinched the AFC South and first-round postseason byes. Dungy said this week this year's scenario is more similar to 2004, when the Colts did not have a first-round bye and rested players in a loss in the regular-season finale at Denver.
The Colts beat the Broncos in the first round of the playoffs that season.
This season, while the Colts won't play Tennessee in the first round, they could play the Titans later in the postseason.
"The only thing that will feel like it's the right way to go is if we win the Super Bowl," Dungy said. "We know that going in. Whatever you do, if you win, it's the right thing and you were smart. If you lose, you did the wrong thing and you're not very smart. We're going to do what we think is best. We thought it was best then. We still think it's best now and hopefully we win and we look smart at the end. . . .
"We want to definitely keep that momentum going. We're going to rest some guys that need rest. We're going to play to win, as I'm sure they are. But we are going to rest some people. We want to do everything we can, but you also have to take into account that you may play these guys in a couple of weeks, so you may not necessarily want to shoot all your bullets in this game.
"We certainly do want to play well. We don't ever want to lose home games. That's the approach we're going to take."
Saturday agreed with Dungy that the decision to rest players had nothing to with the outcome in 2005 or last season, when the Colts lost, 28-24, to San Diego in an AFC Divisional Playoff.
"We just didn't play good in those games," Saturday said. "We turned the ball over a bunch in those games. It doesn't matter if we're in the beginning of the season, the middle of the season or the end of the season: if we turn the ball over and don't get turnovers, we're in a lot of trouble. That was kind of the answer to both of those playoff games."
Dungy said no matter how much the Colts would like to rest certain players, there is a limit to how many – and how much – players can be out of the game.
"It won't necessarily be dictated by how the game goes," Dungy said. "You still only have 45 guys, so you take a few guys out and you rest them. You just don't have that many and some guys are going to have to play all the time. Some guys are going to be able to alternate. We definitely want to look at (backup quarterback) Jim Sorgi, but it will be played by ear very much."
A year ago, the Colts entered a regular-season finale in the RCA Dome having clinched the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Quarterback Peyton Manning started the game, as did Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Manning left the game after the first series of the second quarter, and Wayne stayed in through the next series, catching 12 passes in a quarter and a half for 87 yards to surpass the 100-reception mark for the first time for a season and finish as the AFC's receiving yardage leader for the season.
"I'm aware much more than anybody else now (of personal goals)," Dungy said. "I think I cost Reggie more money than I have a couple of years ago. I felt bad about it. There are some things you are aware of, personal goals, but I think for all of our guys the team goals come first.
"Sure, they'd like to hit those milestones and we're aware of them, but it's not the primary thing you think about."
Dungy said while personal goals can be a factor in a season-ending situation, he said team goals are a priority, too.
The Colts with a victory Sunday can become the first team in NFL history to win 12 or more games in six consecutive seasons, and they also are trying to prevent the Titans from becoming the first team to sweep the Colts in the regular season since Tennessee did it in 2002.
"We want to win the game," Brock said.
"It's imant to us to go into the playoffs winning, beating Tennessee – who you could potentially face again in the playoffs," Saturday said. "Showing them the style of football you can play is very important."
Asked how much input players will have into how much they play, Dungy smiled.
"Very little," he said, "and that's what people don't understand. For the most part, guys want to play. That's what you do. Unless you're really hurting or banged up, most guys want to play. We have to do the prudent thing. We have to think about what's best for the franchise.
"It's not an easy call. You're trying to balance it, walk that fine line and trying to win games. We are trying to win. There are a lot of guys in our locker room knowing we could win 12 for the sixth year in a row. Nobody's ever done that. That's something that would be important to all of us, so we do want to win it, but you have to balance those things out with the primary goal, which is to be the best team you can be in the playoffs."