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Perfection isn’t everything, but losing still stinks

So, anyone else watch that Jets-Colts game? I’ve read a lot of commentary about it today, some in favor of Coach Caldwell’s decision to pull the starters but more against, and there are two points I think need to be highlighted.

1. I can understand the desire to give starters a little extra rest, and to minimize the chances of a fluke injury derailing the team’s chances of winning the Super Bowl. I’m having a much harder time understanding the rationale for doing so in the middle of a game that’s still up for grabs. If the game wasn’t close, that would have been one thing. But to pull Peyton Manning, a guy who’s played in 191 straight games in part because he so seldom gets hit, when leading 15-10 midway in the third quarter? That’s out there, to say the least. Not playing Manning and the other regulars that got pulled at all would have made more sense to me.

2. All of the commentary I’ve seen has focused on the Colts and the effect Coach Caldwell’s actions would have on them. But it’s not just about the Colts. By essentially conceding the game to the Jets, Caldwell may have changed the playoff picture. Certainly, the Jets, who now control their own playoff destiny, were affected, in their case positively. The Texans, who now need two of the Jets, Broncos, and Ravens to lose to have a shot, and the Steelers, who need all that and more, were damaged. In baseball, at least, it’s generally considered poor form for a team that has already made the playoffs to put a weak lineup out against a team that is still competing for the postseason. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have some qualms about the Colts having that much influence over all these teams’ playoff chances. That just isn’t right.

The Bridge World has written about what they call “sportsmanlike dumping”, a condition that occurs when it’s in a competitor or team’s best interest to not do as well as they could in a given game or match so as to increase their odds of winning a championship. That’s the Colts’ basic argument here: This game meant nothing to them, so their strategy was not predicated on winning it, but on maximizing their chances to win the Super Bowl. Giving some starters the second half off was their way to do that. That’s fine as far as it goes, but as The Bridge World has noted in some of its more detailed examinations of the phenomenon, which tend to occur in tournaments that have poorly thought out conditions for advancement, the ethics of the situation can change if your championship-optimizing behavior disproportionately affects another team. If by not playing your best you prevent another team from advancing, is that right? That is precisely the case here. So I ask: What responsibility, if any, do the Colts have to the Texans and the Steelers and the NFL in general to play their best in a specific game? I don’t think you can truly evaluate Caldwell’s decision without taking that question into account. Sean Pendergrast goes into that from the Texans’ viewpoint.

Finally, I note that two years ago when the Patriots had started out 14-0, there was a fair bit of nattering in the press about how a perfect regular season is less important than a Super Bowl win. I thought Jim Henley had a good response to those concerns, and I just find it interesting that we’re revisiting all that a mere two years later, but from the perspective of a coach who agreed with that formula, unlike Bill Belichick. Belichick ultimately didn’t get what he wanted. We’ll see if Caldwell does. All I can say is that if the Colts flame out before the Super Bowl, it’s gonna be ugly. What do you think?

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