Colts fans and NFL fans are seething. This e-mail from a 45-year Colts fan, Ron Olshemsky of Sherrill, N.Y., in the wake of the 14-0 Colts yanking many of their starters with a 15-10 lead in the third quarter, and going on to lose 29-15 to the Jets at home: "I have experienced all of the ups and downs and aggravations that any fan has. I don't recall having a reaction like I had when they pulled the starters. If you don't aspire to greatness, what is the point? I could have dealt with a Peyton Manning injury better than what I feel like now. If it took the wind out of my sails, what do they think is going to happen to the players? You could tell by their reactions on the sidelines. Honestly, I look for an early exit again. Even though I can't stand Bill Belichick, I respected the fact he played that last regular season game against the Giants in 2007 like it was the Super Bowl. How many chances for immortality are there?''
I get it. And I agree. I think, especially because Peyton Manning takes so few big hits (in 12 seasons, he's never missed a start), it's not ultra-dangerous to leave him in the game, even if the untrustworthy Tony Ugoh is playing left tackle instead of Charley Johnson (turf toe). The Colts could rest the guys they need to rest, in my opinion, without putting Manning at undue risk of injury. In the last two years, he'd dropped back to pass 1,132 times and been sacked 24 times. That's one sack per every 47 dropbacks. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore and Manning are smart. They could easily have formulated a gameplan including only quick and intermediate throws, to even further lower the risk of injury.
I understand the Colts' philosophy about not wanting to get key guys hurt. But whether players voice their feelings or not, guys like Manning and Reggie Wayne want to leave their footprints in the game forever. And you'll never be able to convince me they don't care about 16-0. I don't buy it. Manning doesn't know his stats like Pete Rose knew his, but he's well aware of his place in the pantheon. Why wouldn't he long to have an MVP season in the midst of one of the great seasons a team has ever had? I think he does. You could see it on his face. The pained expression on the closeups said it all. The guy I feel for is Curtis Painter. Talk about a baptism by fire. The only time the Lucas Oil crowd got loud Sunday was to boo the poor kid in his first extended playing time in the NFL. A shame.
It's beginning to look a lot like Revis. The suspense on the MVP has dissolved; I'd be stunned if Peyton Manning didn't get a majority of the 50 votes in the Associated Press balloting due next Monday. Coach of the Year could go to any of five or six deserving men. Offensive Player of the Year may depend on whether Tennessee running back Chris Johnson gets the 128 yards he needs to hit the 2,000-yard mark Sunday in Seattle. Defensive Player of the Year? This award always carries some more weight because defensive players usually don't win the MVP (only Lawrence Taylor and Alan Page have). The prime contenders:
Saints safety Darren Sharper, with nine interceptions (tied for the NFL lead), three touchdowns and a sick 376 return yards.
Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, with eight interceptions, two touchdowns and four forced fumbles.
Denver outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who leads the NFL with 17 sacks.
Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, with six interceptions, a touchdown, and a league-high 31 passes defensed.
It's hard to quantify defensive stats, but I like the way Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders thinks. He has built a database that illuminates some dark statistical positions. At cornerback, for instance, interceptions are often not the best measurement if the player is not being thrown at much. So Schatz keeps numbers on the other important stats for defensive backs -- average yards allowed by team to No. 1 receivers (figuring that many corners will match up on the opposition's best wideout), average yards-after-the-catch allowed to opposing No. 1 receivers, and, to measure physicality, run tackles by cornerbacks.
In average yards allowed to top receivers, the Jets lead the league by a wide margin at 30.5 yards per game -- and that's almost always been Revis' man. Washington (43.6), San Diego (44.5), Philadelphia (45.5) and Green Bay (48.5) follow. In average yards-after-the-catch, the Jets are first, at 2.6 yards, followed by Indy (2.9), Philadelphia (3.1), Denver (3.1) and Cincinnati (3.2). Woodson is second in cornerback run tackles with 35, while Revis is eighth with 20.
It'll probably be a close vote, but I'm leaning toward Revis. He's been matched against Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Marques Colston, Steve Smith, Roddy White and Reggie Wayne a total of seven times, and he hasn't allowed a 70-yard game. He's been the definition of shutdown corner. He combines wily coverage with a physical presence, and, at 24, there's not a young defensive player in football I'd take over him. Should be a good race.
The Bengals get their prime time moment. The Jets get a chance Rex Ryan thought they'd never have. In the end, the Colts and Saints made the league's decision on which game to flex to the last game of the regular-season Sunday night easy. With no historic unbeaten season in the offing, the NFL could take the game with certain playoff implications and put it on NBC with teams around the league waiting to see how the last spot or two in the playoffs would shake out. Two teams have win-and-they're-in situations: the Jets and Baltimore. The Bengals-Jets game is more desirable than Baltimore-Oakland for a few reasons. It's potentially a more competitive game, it's the last football game in Giants Stadium, the Bengals have been eager to play a prime-time game and have more star power than the Raiders, and it's better to have a 10-5 team on TV than a 5-10 team. I doubt the NFL wanted to put Charlie Frye and 20,000 empty seats in Oakland on the showcase prime-time game of week 17.
Lots of people have asked why the Dallas-Philadelphia game, for the championship of the NFC East, wasn't flexed. A couple of reasons. All things being equal, the league would have preferred an AFC game to be flexed. By the end of the current contract in 2013, the league has to have flexed an equal number of FOX (NFC) and CBS (AFC) games to the Sunday night NFL package on NBC. As of today, the league has shifted four more NFC games than AFC games. So this lowers the margin to three. Another factor is that, by virtue of the Giants losing to Carolina and Dallas beating Washington, Dallas and Philadelphia were already playoff-bound. Now it's just a question of which seed each will be.
One more interesting note from the league's scheduling czar, Howard Katz, late last night: I was under the impression that NBC, with its two wild-card games Jan. 9, got the first choice of which game to put in prime time on that Saturday night. Then FOX and CBS would take an NFC and AFC game, respectively, and NBC would be left with the unchosen game for its second Saturday game.
"I don't know how that ever got started,'' Katz said, "but it's not true. None of the networks get a choice. They all lobby, of course, but it's a league decision.''
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