But Caldwell threw a curveball at his players when he had the first-string offense face the first-string defense during the bye week, including a day in pads. Before this season the Colts had gone 0--3 following first-round byes. "In years past we would try to guess who we were going to play," Manning said. "[This time] we just worked Colts against Colts, starters against starters. It was good, competitive, enthusiastic, spirited practice. You're going against Dwight Freeney, you're going against Antoine Bethea. You're not going against a guy on the practice squad. It made both sides of the ball better."
Says Caldwell, "Often what you lose [during the bye] is game speed. When you work ones versus ones, they know the system and you get the game speed."
Caldwell recently watched Invictus, the movie about Nelson Mandela and the 1995 South African rugby team. The film's title comes from a poem of the same name by William Ernest Henley, an English author who battled chronic tuberculosis and whose left leg was amputated below the knee at age 12. The Colts' coach recites it, once again from memory:
"In the fell clutch of circumstance/I have not winced nor cried aloud/Under the bludgeonings of chance/My head is bloody, but unbowed."
So, too, are the Colts, two wins away from their second Super Bowl title in four seasons. Two wins from poetic justice.