The Carolina Panthers are currently 13-0, and a popular discussion recently has been whether they should rest their starters. It is a discussion that Colts fans know all to well, though likely not remembering it too fondly.
In 2009, the Colts were 14-0 with a legitimate shot at a perfect season - and then they gave up. Leading at halftime in the 15th game against the New York Jets, the Colts then pulled their starters, only to see their backups blow the lead and allow the Jets to win the game. That game was one of the major factors in fans turning on general manager Bill Polian and not trusting him, which culminated a few years later in fans celebrating his firing. After blowing the lead against the Jets, the Colts' backups then lost again the following week so that the team finished 14-2 on the season. Their chance at perfection was gone, thanks to the backups and thanks to the fear of injury.
Colts fans don't remember that moment fondly, and it appears that the players don't either. Recently, former Colts center Jeff Saturday - one of the best players and biggest leaders on the team - appeared on the radio with ESPN's Mike and Mike to talk about that situation and the one the Panthers are currently facing (h/t to the Indianapolis Star for catching this).
Saturday said that the decision to rest the starters was not relayed to the team until halftime of the Jets game, when it was decided that they would pull them and get them out of the game.
"We did not know," Saturday said. "It's probably, and truthfully, in my opinion, it's probably one of the the things that I regret the most or the most painful to deal with in my career is that you had the opportunity. I mean, this is a game that we were in control of, you never know how games are going to play out but Peyton's playing, our skill guys are all playing, basically they yank all of those guys out and it's just the offensive line now and Painter and everybody else kind of gets thrown in and it becomes a disaster. And so, in my opinion, what makes it so difficult is you know you had a shot and you never really got the opportunity to see how it played out. I am of the mindset you keep going, keep griding.
"We had been on teams, in 2005, I‘d been on a lot of teams who were 9-0, 8-0, 13-0, 14, I mean, I had been on some really good football teams," Saturday continued. "And what we did know was when you go into the playoffs after you've rested a bunch of guys for a long time, it's hard to get that magic back. It's hard to get the momentum of your football team back. And so I was always of the mindset, especially then, let's roll it. I mean, if somebody gets hurt, it's a bummer. Right? But that's part of our game. And you never know if it's going to be week one or week sixteen, but to go say, ‘hey, we're not going to play because of fear of injury,' as opposed to, ‘let's keep our team clicking on all cylinders and guys playing together.' There's a camaraderie, I mean, look at Cam Newton and the pictures they take after. These guys are feeling it, man, I mean they are enjoying playing, these guys are full steam ahead. You pull them out, start resting guys, all the sudden that energy begins to kind of dwindle."
It's interesting to hear a former player like Saturday talk so openly about how he regrets that situation (he made it clear he wasn't a part of the decision-making process) and wishes they had gone for perfection. It's also interesting to hear him talk about how hard it is to pick up right where they left off after resting guys. Later in the interview he talked about that very situation with the Panthers and how, when you add in the bye week, they would be sitting for quite a while.
"Now you've gone through two weeks of not preparing to win a football game and it becomes preseason again," Saturday pointed out, "and we see how slow teams start when the preseason ends and the real season begins, especially offensively. It's hard to recreate that and get back into the flow."
Saturday said that if he were the coach of the Panthers this year he would absolutely let them play for perfection. He did acknowledge that he would probably feel differently about the situation if the Colts had won the Super Bowl in 2009, but he added that he thinks playing for perfection "is worth the risk" of injury and that, if he were the one injured in a meaningless week 16 game, he would have been ok with it if he knew they were going for perfection.
I'm sure that many Colts fans can resonate with these comments from Saturday, as not trying for a perfect season and just giving up - at home in front of their own fans, nonetheless - was one of the most painful moments for many Colts fans too. It sounds like it was for Jeff Saturday and he said that he is "absolutely" still bothered by it. Now, again, if the Colts had won the Super Bowl that year there wouldn't be as much talk about it still today, but it doesn't sound like the decision to give up on a chance for perfection was very popular with anyone outside of the Colts' front office.