Although the Indianapolis Colts are at the center of this discussion after they pulled the plug early against the New York Jets on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers very much factor into the conversation because, as we’ve discussed, Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals could very well be meaningless for the Pack.
It brings up the question, should the NFL penalize teams who rest their starters or pull them early in games that are meaningless to that team?
Let me frame the discussion with Colts’ coach Jim Caldwell’s actions first. On Sunday, Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning and several other starters with 5:36 left in the third quarter. The Colts would go up 15-10 shortly thereafter.
The game was meaningless for the Colts, other than the fact that they were undefeated and chasing history. Caldwell’s rationale was that he’d rather have healthy, rested players for a Super Bowl run than a perfect season. Still, a lot of people were none too happy.
By sending in backups, notably quarterback Curtis Painter, the Colts essentially conceded the game in the third quarter. The Jets would reel off 17 unanswered points for a 29-15 victory. Painter would finish with 44 yards, one interception and one fumble in a game that Manning probably could have won blindfolded. In the process, the victory not only kept the Jets in the crowded AFC wild card chase, but it gave them control of their own destiny. Instead of essentially being eliminated at 7-8, the Jets now need only to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, who are also considering resting their starters, for a playoff spot.
First on the list of people who should be irate about Caldwell’s decision are the other teams competing for an AFC wild card spot – the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, and to a lesser extent, the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, the last two of which failed to take care of their own business on Sunday and fell to 7-8.
I know resting players happens to some extent every year, but the Colts essentially conceded what was a playoff game for the Jets. While the game may not have mattered to the Colts, it most assuredly mattered to a good portion of the AFC, and for that reason the NFL has to be somewhat embarrassed. I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say the AFC playoffs are tainted if the Jets make it. On top of that, we’ll probably have to listen to Rex Ryan’s idiotic drivel for another week.
Second on the list of people who should be angry are the fans. Colts fans were potentially cheated out of a piece of history when Caldwell decided he couldn’t care less about the undefeated season, but that’s only a small part of the equation.
The real losers were the people who bought tickets (not to mention beer, food, souvenirs, etc.) at the RCA Dome on Sunday. Do you think those people paid to see Curtis Painter and Hank Baskett? No. They paid to see Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne make a run at history. And hell, even if that run were a failure those fans still paid to see Manning and Wayne play more than two quarters of football.
I’m going to Phoenix for Sunday’s Packers game. The Packers may have nothing to play for, but you know what I want to see? I want to see Aaron Rodgers throwing ropes to Donald Driver, and Charles Woodson hitting motherfuckers in the face as long as the game is still contested. I’m not paying to see the likes of Matt Flynn and Josh Bell strut their stuff. And I expect the same from the opposition – Kurt Warner better be throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, or I’m throwing my beer on the field (and probably getting ejected).
If one team gains what is likely an insurmountable lead, then go ahead and rest the starters for the playoffs, but no one should concede a win the way the Colts did. It not only cheapens the game, and in this case, the playoffs, but it’s akin to robbing the fans, which brings me to the question: should the NFL institute a penalty for teams who concede games such as the Colts did?
First, let me say this isn’t my idea, but I’m strongly behind it. It came from the folks at With Leather, who proposed that the NFL fine the Colts for, as they say, throwing a game with playoff implications.
It doesn’t matter why Colts coach Jim Caldwell threw that game away; the fact of the matter is that he did it. They knowingly tanked a regular season NFL game. It doesn’t matter why they did it, or that they stood to gain little from winning. The league should investigate the organization, and then fine them. And then move them back to Baltimore.
A fine is probably the way to go. After all, I don’t how you’d really penalize them otherwise – maybe they open their first playoff game with a 15-yard penalty, or maybe something more extreme, like they have forfeit one of the games they already won. I bet the latter would alter the thought process.
But seriously, a fine sounds about right. Fine the organization and the coach. Fine them a lot. After all, teams get fined for shit like tampering, which we all know goes on anyway. Coaches and players get fined for criticizing the officiating, even though we all know it genuinely sucks from time to time. Why not levy a fine for a team that takes a dive?
You know, unless the NFL doesn’t give a shit about the fans or the integrity of the game.