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Polian fails to make the case for not trying to win on Sunday

When it comes to the question of whether the Colts should have pulled Peyton Manning and other starters from Sunday’s game against the Jets, the Colts have asked their fans to let it go.

Maybe the Colts should consider doing the same.

On Tuesday, Colts president Bill Polian appeared with Rich Eisen of NFL Network, and Polian spoke at length about one of the most controversial decisions ever made by a team in position to win a Super Bowl.

Since Polian said a lot in seven minutes on the air, we need to make several specific points in response to Polian’s remarks.

1. The Colts have a warped sense of history.

Former Colts coach Tony Dungy said on Sunday night that the Colts have an obligation to win the Super Bowl, but no obligation to go undefeated. We assume that Coach Dungy would agree, then, that the Colts also have no obligation to set the record for consecutive regular-season wins, or to try to win the most games in the decade.

Polian feels differently.

“16-0 we did not feel was a historic achievement,” Polian told Eisen. “What was important to us, and what we tried very hard to do on a short week against Jacksonville after we had wrapped up the home-field advantage was to set two records. One, for the most consecutive regular-season games won. We were tied with New England prior to that, and we now hold that record ourselves. And secondly, for the most games won in this decade. And I don’t believe that anybody can catch us now, no matter what happens this week. We felt those were both extremely historical milestones that were worth going out there and risking everything for.”

So Polian would have us believe that the Colts, who had locked up the top seed in the AFC only four days earlier, opted to go all out against the Jaguars (in a game televised by NFL Network) because the Colts thought that securing the record for consecutive regular-season wins and nailing down the most wins during the decade justified putting Peyton Manning and other starters at risk.

But who cares about a regular-season winning streak? And if the regular-season winning streak was so important, why didn’t the Colts care about matching New England’s actual 21-game winning streak from 2003-04, which takes into account the most important wins of all -- the ones that come in the postseason?

Then there’s the incredibly meaningless notion of winning the most games in the decade. We can’t recall the concept ever being mentioned to cap the ‘70s, ‘80s, or ‘90s.

Maybe Polian thinks that this distinction somehow makes the Colts the “team of the decade,” even though the Colts won only one Super Bowl.

Then again, the Colts really haven’t won the most games of the decade, if the postseason is included. Sure, they’ve won 115 regular-season games, three more than the Patriots. But with playoff games included, the Pats have won 126 games, and the Colts have won 122.

Ironically, the Colts had a chance to catch the Patriots for most total wins in the decade by winning the last two games of the regular season and three playoff games, assuming the Pats lose in Week 17 and make a one-game exit from the playoffs. But, apparently, winning the most regular-season games from 2000 through 2009 was sufficiently important to put Peyton Manning at risk, but securing the more accurate barometer of total wins in a ten-year period wasn’t.

2. The Colts clinched both records the same day they secured home-field advantage.

The biggest flaw in Polian’s logic regarding the two records that the franchise deemed to be sufficiently compelling to risk Peyton Manning’s ACLs comes from the simple fact that, when they lined up to play the Jaguars on December 17, the Colts already had set both marks.

The record for consecutive regular-season wins was 21. With nine straight wins to end the 2008 season and 13 to launch 2009, the Colts set the mark on December 13, when they beat the Broncos.

Technically, they broke the record four days later, by pushing it from 22 to 23. But if the desire to break their own record had been a factor in going all out against the Jaguars, it should have compelled them to try to extend the string to 24 against the Jets.

The Colts also nailed down the record for the most regular-season wins in the decade on December 13, when they racked up their 114th regular-season victory for 2000 through 2009. That same day, the Patriots won their 110th regular-season game during that same stretch. So even if the Colts tanked the final three games -- starting with Jacksonville -- the Patriots couldn’t have caught them.

3. The Colts weren’t clear about their goals.

Polian also tried to blame the media and the fans for not realizing before Sunday’s game that the Colts had planned in Week 16 to take the pedal off the metal.

“I thought we had made it clear that 16-0 was not a goal for us,” Polian said.

On one hand, the Colts were clear that they didn’t care about going undefeated. On the other hand, they never said a single thing about risking player health in order to set the all-time regular-season consecutive winning streak or to win the most games in the decade, excluding playoffs and Super Bowls (since those games apparently don’t count).

Indeed, during a live appearance on the December 13 edition of NBC’s Football Night in America, Polian told Dan Patrick that the goal is to “get players who are playing hurt as healthy as they can be for the playoffs.”

That’s our number one priority,” Polian said. “Be healthy in January when the money’s on the line.”

If that’s the case, the Colts wouldn’t have gone all out four nights later against the Jaguars.

And maybe they wouldn’t have done so, if the game wasn’t scheduled to be televised on the network owned by the NFL.

4. Why wouldn’t going undefeated be a goal?

The Colts have consistently said that they didn’t want to win every game.

Why? Because the ’72 Dolphins already had done it.

“The Dolphins are known as the only undefeated team because they went -- I believe it was 17-0,” Polian said. “Since it had been done before it wasn’t as historic a milestone as that which I stated previously, which was the most games won in the decade and the consecutive victory mark.”

Of course, 19-0 is better than 17-0. And we like how Polian pretended not to realize that the ’72 Dolphins won 17 games, as if the total number isn’t widely known and thus isn’t significant.

But if we accept that it was important to the Colts to win 22 regular-season games in a row, then it surely should have been important to win 19 games in one season, especially since no one has ever done that.

Polian characterized the team’s position in this regard as “an honest difference of opinion.”

He’s essentially saying, “Both views are reasonable, so please respect ours.”

And that’s a cop out. The Colts are being unreasonable, and their obsession with making their position seem reasonable is only making the unreasonableness of their beliefs more obvious.

5. The owner signed off on it.

Polian was careful to point out that the decision not to push for a 15th win (and thus, not to pursue per fection) came with the involvement, and presumably the blessing, of owner Jim Irsay.

In other words, to the extent that Polian is getting heat, he wants folks to realize that the guy who writes the checks approved of the approach.

So don’t blame Polian. Blame Irsay.


The coach made the decision to pull the starters.

Polian also was careful to point out that, even though he was involved in the crafting of the plan to stop trying, coach Jim Caldwell was the one who made the specific decision to yank Peyton Manning and others with a five-point lead early in the third quarter.

“The timing was entirely up to [Caldwell],” Polian said. “It was his decision to make as to when we took the players out.”

So don’t blame Polian. Blame Caldwell.

7. Polian has misread the source of his team’s frustration.

At one point, Eisen asked Polian if he is concerned about the psyche of the team, given body language suggesting that the players who had been removed from a winnable game weren’t pleased with the move.

“Not at all,” Polian said. “As a matter of fact, I’m very proud of them because what they’re upset about is losing the game, not the ability to play in the game. They all wanted to win the game because we want to win every game we play.”

Somewhere, there’s a dog chasing his tail. And even he thinks that none of this makes a lick of sense.

8. The Colts might have been hiding injuries.

Lastly, Polian’s attempt to justify pulling apparently healthy players has created possible evidence that the team has been hiding a couple of injuries.

Polian said that receiver Reggie Wayne had been battling a sore toe and a sore groin. The injury report for Week 16, however, makes no mention of a groin injury to Wayne.

Also, Polian said that tight end Dallas Clark had a thigh contusion. Though it’s possible Clark suffered the thigh contusion during the portion of the game in which he played, he did not appear on a Week 16 injury report containing 25 names.

So, basically, Polian’s effort to make the situation better only makes it worse. The far better move would have been to take the heat, and move on.