One of the bigger stories to break yesterday was not necessarily the final score of some of the playoff-deciding games but rather the report from CBS Sports' Boomer Esiason that Bill Polian scheduled a meeting with the players to discuss the decision to pull starters in the third quarter against the Jets in Week Sixteen (no link because Esiason spoke about it on the pre-game show). However, instead of Polian conducting the meeting, Peyton Manning stepped in, asked Polian not to address the players, and called a "players only" meeting to discuss the subject. According to Esiason, players were upset that management and the coaches did not clearly articulate their intentions about the Jets game. Many players wanted to play to win, felt going 16-0 was important, and were disappointed at the decision's timing.
This news seems to destroy Bill Polian's insistence that there was no division amongst the team over the decision, and that players were OK that they would be pulled in a game the "team" felt was "meaningless."
Players were also upset with how the fans responded to the decision. To clarify, they were not upset with the fans, but rather that management had placed the players in a situation which caused fans to boo the team at home. John Oehser has more on the meeting, including some quotes from Big P:
Manning, in his 12th season as the Colts’ quarterback, said Sunday he spoke to teammates last week regarding moving forward from last week’s controversial loss to the New York Jets, saying while it was disappointing the focus was on the playoffs and Super Bowl.
On Sunday, he asked fans to do the same.
"I just want to say to our fans how much we’re going to need them the next two weekends," Manning told reporters Sunday following the Colts’ 30-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills in the 2009 regular-season finale at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard park, N.Y.
Again, this is why Peyton Manning is the best, and why Bill Polian needs to stop talking and hide out somewhere until the season ends. And, for his sake, he better hope it ends in a Super Bowl win. Otherwise, not only will the media and fans bash and berate Polian every moment he sets foot outside, but the players will not trust him or Caldwell with big management-like decisions again.
For now, Peyton is taking the active role as leader and team front man (something Polian is an abject failure at).
The decision by management and coaches to not aggressively pursue a 16-0 season – Colts President Bill Polian, Owner Jim Irsay and Head Coach Jim Caldwell all agreed it was more important to be healthy for the regular season – sparked national debate and angered Colts fans, who booed the decision during the game and voiced their opinions on talk radio and message boards throughout this past week.
Manning said Sunday he discussed the matter with players Wednesday.
"I just said we need to put last weekend behind us," Manning told reporters Sunday. "It’s got to be over. Realizing it was continuing to be discussed amongst our fans and amongst our city, and our organization was continuing to address it. As players, I just said, ‘We’ve got to move on. We’ve got to move on to the next step.’
"Here we are now in playoff mode and that’s where our focus is."
I just think from a players’ standpoint, I wanted to get all us on the same page that, ‘Hey, it’s over, what happened last Sunday. We’re moving on. Let’s stay together and try to turn it into a position.’
"It was kind of a negative thing. Let’s turn it into a positive. Our players are tight. We stick together. We know what we want to do and know it is an opportunity to go out and do it."
Again, this is real leadership, not the corporate-speak Polian has vomited at us the last week. Not double talk. No illogical excuse-making. Peyton acknowledged the decision was "negative" and politely asked fans to stick with the team as the playoffs start. Bravo Peyton. Bravo.
More thna any TD he threw this season, this kind of leadership is THE reason he is the unquestioned league MVP.
Polian's decision, executed by Jim Caldwell and supported by owner Jim Irsay, was not popular with fans, media, and now seemingly the players. From my vantage, when Polian scheduled the meeting, the players seemed to respond with "Whatever Bill. Get out of our way and let us win, already," which is a very positive sign that the team is focused on winning. However, the negative is there seems to be a significant rift between Polian and the players. "Players only" meetings conducted in lieu of management talking to them pretty much sends the signal that the players do not like or trust what management has to say.
If there is any group of players who can overcome the stunningly moronic decision that Polian and Caldwell made, and the unnecessary distraction that decision created, it's this group. They are angry. They are frustrated. They are not happy about management taking something away that they felt was important. They aren't happy about losing two in a row, both blowout loses to teams that are clearly inferior to them.
However, they seem focused. They seem ready. They seem driven. Hopefully, they can take that anger, bottle it, shake it up, and blast it in the faces of their eventual playoff opponents. And yes, that last word "opponents" is plural for a reason.