Monday, December 31, 2007

We Play to...Get Reggie Wayne the Receiving Yards Crown and Then Lie Down Like Dogs

On Saturday night, NFL fans were treated to two NFL teams that "had nothing to play for" playing one of the most exciting games of the season, a game that will forever be remembered because of its historical significance and for the long, record setting touchdown pass that gave New England the lead for good. Then, on Sunday night, NFL fans watched a bunch of imposters wearing Indianapolis Colts uniforms play against the Tennessee Titans. I don't know what was worse, how totally inept the Colts were on offense or the fact that the Titans made the playoffs on the basis of a 16-10 win that looked like a bad preseason contest. I understand that Coach Tony Dungy and his Colts earned the right to do whatever they wanted on Sunday night; it is indeed the Cleveland Browns' fault that they not only lost to the Cincinnati Bengals but that they also lost to the Oakland Raiders and thus needed help in order to qualify for the playoffs. However, can anyone honestly say that the Titans-Colts game was entertaining, that it was good for the league or that the fans who bought tickets truly got their money's worth? If you are a Colts fan did you really enjoy watching that game?

A lot of people like to take shots at Patriots' Coach Bill Belichick but Belichick and his team treat every moment of every game as if that moment is supremely important. Dungy had Peyton Manning throw a steady diet of short passes to Reggie Wayne until Wayne caught his 100th pass of the season and clinched the AFC receiving yards crown--and then Dungy took out his key players and put in a bunch of guys who could barely line up correctly, let alone get a first down.

Tom Brady and Randy Moss set all-time records on a play that helped their team cap off a 16-0 season; the Titans were content to let Wayne have all the short yardage receptions he wanted as long as the plays chewed up time and did not lead to a score, secure in the knowledge that after Wayne achieved his "milestones" that Dungy would call off the dogs. Isn't it convenient that Wayne fumbled in the red zone to end the Colts' first series? Then, at the end of the game, the Colts could have called a timeout and at least forced the Titans to run a fourth down play or punt; instead, Dungy and Titans' Coach Jeff Fisher were standing at midfield smiling and shaking hands with time still remaining on the clock--and fans are supposed to be satisfied by this charade because the reserve Colts who were on the field for most of the game tried the best that they could and made a few hard hits. Give me a break. Root for the Colts if you must but please don't say that you prefer them to the Patriots because you value the integrity of the game.

Dungy "rested" key players in the last two regular season games of 2005, losing one and barely winning the other, and then the Colts were upset at home in the playoffs after a bye week. True football fans who value the integrity of all of the regular season games no doubt hope that the "rested" Colts meet a similar fate this time around. Michael Jordan once said, "Love is playing every game as if it's your last." Clearly, he could not have played for the Colts.


vednam said...

I think you are being a bit too harsh here, David. I have no problem with the Patriots' pursuit of perfection, but I also have no problem with a team in any sport taking it easy a little bit so that they are fresh come playoff time (if that's what they think will serve them best, which is of course debatable).

The Colts are hardly the first team to employ such a strategy and they won't be the last. In a violent sport like football where a severe injury can occur at any time, resting starters is easily justifiable in my mind. Veteran teams in the NBA (from today's Spurs to the Doc-Moses Sixers to Russell's Celtics) have taken similar approaches. I would not accuse them of violating the integrity of the game or lacking as competitors.

I do think that critics are taking it too far in looking for ways to criticize the Patriots, and it is inconsistent of them to not go as far in criticizing other teams (like the Colts). I don't think the Patriots or the Colts should be criticized in this case.

David Friedman said...


I said in the post that the Colts are clearly entitled to do whatever they want--but the way that they went about it in this particular case strikes me as a bit unseemly. Couldn't Manning or Wayne have gotten hurt while they were chasing individual milestones? It's like the Titans let them get their records because they knew that they would have a chance to win the game. I'm not saying that the teams actively colluded to do this but that was what it looked and felt like. It is pretty clear that if Manning and Wayne had even played for just a half that the Colts could have taken a big enough lead to win the game with their reserves in the second half. If I were a Colts fan, I would not have enjoyed watching that game.

I know that other teams have rested players before but I prefer the Patriots' approach of treating every moment of every game like it is meaningful. Imagine if the Giants had played that game like the Colts did; that would have "tainted" the Patriots' 16-0 season. Instead, the Giants tried their best and we saw one of the most entertaining games of the year.