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Colts would spoil chemistry by sitting out stars

Indianapolis clinches AFC South with victory over Jacksonville, winning 13th straight game

Colts would spoil chemistry by sitting out stars

Sit them down? Give Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison a couple of long weekends?

It could happen, but not this Sunday. Nor are you likely to see Jim Sorgi throwing to Aaron Moorehead the succeeding Sundays, either _ not with San Diego and Seattle on the docket.

And hang the undefeated season. This isn't about matching or, in fact, exceeding the 17-0 Dolphins with a 19-0 season.

This is about chemistry and, as coach Tony Dungy said Sunday, "the need to improve every week."

Twenty minutes after the Indianapolis Colts held off the rallying Jacksonville Jaguars 26-18 to clinch the AFC South and home advantage throughout the playoffs, Dungy stood before a phalanx of reporters to confront the sit-down question.

"We'll talk about it," he said, meaning himself and the club president, Bill Polian. "But next week is a game we want to win, and we definitely want to play well at home. This is not the time to shut it down."

It's a philosophical question with no certain answer.

Now that you have a No. 1 seed in the Super Bowl tournament, do you minimize injury potential to your best players by reducing their field time, but also risk the loss of momentum - especially with a bye week between the final regular-season and opening playoff games?

No vote

Dungy is not averse to time off, but not until the January 1 game against Arizona, and his star players aren't getting a vote on this.

"I'll decide. I have to gauge the team and take it from there," Dungy said.

He was asked how hard it would be to tell Manning, who has thrown all but 30 passes in the last 32 Colts games, to grab a clipboard.

"It won't be hard at all," said Dungy, smiling. "I'll just take him out."

And so the Colts join the 1934 Chicago Bears, the 1972 Dolphins and the 1998 Denver Broncos as the only teams to win their first 13 games, and all that separates them from 16-0 are the Chargers and Cardinals at home and the Seahawks on the road on December 24.

Dressed in a plain, three-button brown suit, his hair matted from a shower, Manning stood in the locker room wondering whether his team would have to fight a natural instinct to take a deep breath and relax a bit after clinching the top seed in the AFC and the home edge that goes with it.

"It sure won't hurt to be playing San Diego and Seattle next," he said, agreeing that the quality of those clubs and the pride factor that comes with beating them will help the Colts remain at a high level.

It's a mesmerizing experience listening to Manning after a win, and this Sunday was no exception.

He had just completed 24 of 36 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns and three times made Jacksonville's Pro Bowl cornerback candidate Rashean Mathis look ridiculous, beginning with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Harrison in the second quarter.

How many quarterbacks would have pulled down every tape of every Jaguars game this season to look for defensive back tendencies?

Manning does his homework

Early in the week Manning had been poring over the September 25 Jets-Jacksonville game, noticing that when Justin McCareins ran a short out from a particular set, Mathis stepped in front of him on a pass from Chad Pennington and intercepted in overtime.

"Pump him," Manning told Harrison in the huddle. Give him a head and shoulder fake and a false step toward the sideline, then break it upfield.

Bang. Harrison had Mathis beaten by 10 yards for the catch and a 14-3 lead.

"We can go one-and-done like that. Or we can drag it out," said Manning as he recalled the 11-play drive to a touchdown to start the game and a couple of 13-play drives for third-quarter field goals."

But he saved his best for his final pass, on third-and-7 from the Colts 23 with Jacksonville having rallied for 15 points in the fourth quarter. They were desperate for a first down.

"It was a play we'd run earlier to (tight end Dallas Clark). I had to backpedal and I couldn't really see him. It's called trust. You just have to trust that he'll be in the right spot when I put the ball there," Manning said.

He was, for 12 yards and a clock-killing first down.

"It's a great feeling when you can't see a completion, when all you hear is that big ah-h-h," said Manning, emulating the deflated sigh of the crowd.

No, he's not coming out. Not against San Diego, Seattle or Arizona.

He can't come out. It wouldn't be right. It would be a bigger loss to the rest of us than it would be the Colts.

Updated : 2021-05-10 14:08 GMT+08:00