But here is where the entire logic of resting starters in December collapses: In the most dangerous and violent of sports, football coaches don't practice this protective strategy during the season. If Caldwell or any coach were going to rest starters at the end of the season, he should do so during the entirety of the season, following the NBA approach (it is commonplace to watch Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan watching a fourth-quarter blowout from the bench).
Take, for example, how Caldwell handled Manning earlier this season:
• Led 31-10 in Week 3 at Arizona with 11:31 left. Manning played the whole game.
• Led 28-3 in Week 4 versus Seattle with 8:02 left in the third quarter. Manning played the whole game.
• Led 31-9 in Week 5 at Tennessee with 7:32 left and a bye week coming up. Manning played the whole game.
• Led 28-6 in Week 7 at St. Louis at the end of third quarter. Manning played the whole game.
So Caldwell coached a certain way all season long. Why, then, would Manning be more at risk on Sunday than he had been during the rest of the regular season? If the stated objective is to win the Super Bowl, wasn't Manning unnecessarily at risk on the field for the entire game in a 42-6 win over the Rams?
Taking out his starters would have made more sense under the following conditions: 1. The game was especially physical and/or dirty; 2. Weather increased the risk of injury; 3. The result of the game was no longer in doubt; or, 4. The players in question were already playing with injuries that threatened their playoff availability.
When Manning was removed, he had not been sacked nor intercepted. The Jets are a tough, physical defensive team, but Manning had completed 14 of 21 passes for 192 yards. The two teams are formal rivals, but the game itself wasn't a particularly edgy one in which a star player was at greater risk of injury due to a cheap shot or rougher play. Weather, naturally, was not a factor because the Colts play indoors. At 15-10 with five minutes left in the third, the outcome of the game was hardly assured, and Manning, who has played in 191 consecutive games -- which is to say every game of his NFL career -- is not an injury risk.
And if injury was truly such a major consideration, why allow Manning to play at all? He could have broken his leg in the first quarter Sunday and could injure himself at Buffalo next week. In short, none of it really made sense.
I'm with Bryant when he says that Coach Caldwell created a distraction- his decision. Good coaches remove distractions. He created one, at precisely the wrong time: right before the playoffs.
None of this is to say that the Colts can't overcome. They certainly can. Overcoming 16-0 would have been a better 'problem' to deal with, though. Just because the Patriots lost the Super Bowl after going 16-0, well, post hoc; ergo, propter hoc?