By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — With the Indianapolis Colts needing a win over the Denver Broncos in order to clinch home-field advantage throughout the upcoming AFC playoffs, first-year head coach Jim Caldwell has been getting plenty of advice about how he should handle his team for the remaining three games of the regular season.
By defeating the Broncos this afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis can also extend its record to 13-0 for the year and give the Colts an NFL-record 22 consecutive regular-season victories. But, in Caldwell’s eyes, capturing home-field advantage for the postseason would no doubt be the biggest prize to come out of today’s game.
“If the No. 1 seed happens that certainly means we’ve been able to win some games along the way and do the things that were necessary to get you to that point. Our guys have been really focused and looking at things the proper way. This game would not be any different,” the Colts coach recently explained.
“We have to go at it like every other game that we’ve played. We have to focus in on our practice, how we prepare and let that [the outcome] take care of itself. The key is winning. If you win it seems to take care of itself. We don’t necessarily need anyone’s help. It boils down to controlling the things that you can control. That’s what we try to do week to week.”
If the Colts were to clinch home-field against Denver — and that’s a mighty big if considering the Broncos’ ability to score points and play defense — then it would be up to Caldwell to make the decision on how to approach upcoming games with Jacksonville, the New York Jets and Buffalo.
Should he go for the perfect record, tying the mark set by the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 2007 New England Patriots? Or will he follow the game plan set down by his predecessor, Tony Dungy, and begin to rest players?
It seems as if everybody has an opinion on the issue. Fans and Indianapolis-area sports radio hosts think that given past experiences in the playoffs when Dungy rested players only to see the Colts be one-and-done in the playoffs, Caldwell should play on and go for the record.
Many in the national media, such as ESPN’s Mike Ditka, agree. Dungy, speaking now from his perch as a studio analyst for NBC, remains adamant: save players for the postseason run.
There’s even a division among the Colts players. Some would like to go for the undefeated record if it is at all possible. Others will go along with whatever decision Caldwell might make.
“If it’s up to me, I want to play,” Reggie Wayne said. “I feel like my body is built to play throughout the regular season. If I had the opportunity to put my two cents in, I would play. We all have our own personal goals that we try to get, and I can guarantee you that I need all the rest of these games to attain those goals. But if Coach Caldwell decides to sit guys, who are we to [question] his authority?”
Wayne added that if the locker room was polled for their thoughts, most would want to play the season out.
“It probably would be the majority, but a lot of those guys have nicks and bruises that they probably feel like they [can play through]. I have a [sore] foot. I have a lot of stuff that you can check off the list. But I’ve been playing with that foot. It would probably start hurting more if I don’t play,” he said.
“Probably a majority of the guys would want to do it, but some of the guys may want to rest. I guarantee you the closer we get to being undefeated, a lot of those guys will want to play. That’s just the nature of how it is. Everybody in [the] locker room is a competitor, and they want to be a part of something that never has been done.”
And there is that perfect season that could be within their grasp.
“Whenever you have the opportunity to get records and history and those sorts of things, it’s always good. But is it one of our goals? Not necessarily. We all have the main goal and that’s to make the Super Bowl,” Wayne said.
“If that particular goal is in the way and we can accomplish it, let’s go ahead and knock it down. But if not, we still have the main goal to go for. Not that my two cents matter, but I would love to be a part of that.”
Still, the final decision comes down to what Caldwell decides to do.
“That’s how it is. We can all get vetoed. That’s the way it goes. He has the ultimate decision. If we could double all our votes, it really doesn’t matter. Whatever he says goes,” the Colts receiver said.
While the Indianapolis coach hasn’t come right out and said what he might do given the situation, he has made his intentions fairly clear. And he has a response for those who might question his way of thinking.
“[All the unsolicited advice is] entertaining. There are a lot of different views. There are a lot of different people who have their opinion. Like anything else, you can learn something new every day,” Caldwell said.
“I listen. I don’t necessarily have to comment. Some have pretty good ideas. I’m interested in the one that works. If anybody can guarantee me [that playing his starters won’t result in injuries], then I may listen a little closer.”