Why the Colts pulled Peyton Manning and other key starters is easy to understand. Their number 1 goal is to win the Super Bowl. Everything else is an incredibly distant second. The Colts organization believes that the balance of keeping sharp and reducing injury risk displayed by pulling key starters in the 3rd quarter is the best way to do that.
You can disagree that it's the best way (personally I don't), but understanding why it was done is simple. It only takes one freak play to end a players season and the Colts have been victimized by freak plays sidelining key players. The Colts haven't lost their first round game the last two years because they rested starters. They lost them because of injuries to irreplaceable talents. Without Gary Brackett last year the Colts had no answer for Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson over the middle of the field. Without Dwight Freeney and with Mathis and Brock hobbled in 2007 the Colts were totally unable to apply pass pressure. One play can do irreparable harm to a teams Super Bowl run.
So much is made of the effect rest supposedly has on how sharp Indy's precision passing offense is, but the rested Colts passing O was more effective in the 2007 and 2008 playoffs than in any game during the unrested 2006 Super Bowl run. What should have been a well oiled machine of a Colts O if the play-it-out'ers are to be believed averaged less than 18 points per game through halftime of the AFCCG. 2003 through 2005 the Colts rested and won 2 of their first 3 playoff games, with all 3 playoff exits coming at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl Champs. Connecting rest to 1st round losses is a lazy narrative that relies on a small sample size, cherry picking a cutoff of 2005, ignoring 1st round wins after resting in 03 and 04 and disregarding the absence of key players in 07 and 08.
The Colts made the right move not just because injuries derail seasons, but because the team is professional enough, and strong enough emotionally to stay focused on their goal despite a disappointment. To write off the Colts chances because of what happened today is to call the players emotionally weak. When you think of professionalism in the NFL, the Colts are who should come to mind. Professionals get over disappointment. 19-0 was not the goal, there is no reason to fold with that potential lost.
Caldwell and Polian could have been wrong but we all need to remember that there wouldn't have been an undefeated run to "blow" if it wasn't for the great talents of both of those men. Over the previous 14 games they based their strategy around positioning the Colts to win the Super Bowl, they did the same thing today.
The Colts Super Bowl chances are stronger than ever thanks to the health of their top talents.