NFL Nation: Hank Baskett
For their must-win game against the Cleveland Browns in Sun Life Stadium, the Miami Dolphins have scratched receiver Brandon Marshall, linebacker Channing Crowder and cornerback Al Harris.
The absences of Crowder and Harris might be more significant than Marshall. The Dolphins won without him last week in Oakland, and quarterback Chad Henne played one of his best games.
Dolphins defensive end Phillip Merling is back from his Achilles injury and active for the first time this year.
For the Buffalo Bills' game at the Metrodome, guard Eric Wood, tight end Shawn Nelson and cornerback Terrence McGee are out, as expected.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will play, but receivers Percy Harvin, Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett are out. So is right guard Steve Hutchinson. That might help Bills nose tackle Kyle Williams add to his sack total.
As NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert notes, the Vikings have just three receivers: Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian and Greg Camarillo. Rookie quarterback Joe Webb could see some action as a target.
Here are the inactives:
- Quarterback Joe Webb
- Running back Albert Young
- Receiver Hank Baskett
- Guard Chris DeGeare
- Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy
- Linebacker Erin Henerson
- Cornerback Lito Sheppard
- Safety Tyrell Johnson
- New receiver Randy Moss has officially displaced Bernard Berrian as a starter. Moss and Percy Harvin are listed as the Vikings' starting receivers, although I'm sure Berrian and Moss will play a lot together, with Harvin in the slot, in three-receiver sets. Greg Camarillo and Greg Lewis are also active, leaving Hank Baskett on the inactive list.
- Center John Sullivan (calf) is inactive, meaning Ryan Cook will make his first career start at center.
- Make sure you join AFC East colleague Tim Graham and I in ESPN's NFL Countdown Live chat starting at 8 p.m. ET. The module will appear on the blog about 30 minutes before kickoff.
As a result, the Vikings had four receivers on the practice field: Bernard Berrian, Greg Lewis, Greg Camarillo and the just-signed Hank Baskett. Speaking about 45 minutes before the Jackson trade deadline, coach Brad Childress acknowledged Harvin has been given some new protocols for dealing with migraines but isn't sure if they will speed his recovery.
"I think there's not enough evidence so far," Childress said. "We'll see."
If you recall, Harvin missed most of training camp when the death of his grandmother and another close friend led to a migraine episode. He returned to practice Aug. 19, but a reaction to medication caused him to collapse on the field and be hospitalized. Harvin recently confirmed that doctors diagnosed him with sleep apnea during his hospital stay and hoped that sleeping with an oxygen mask would reduce or eliminate the frequency of migraines.
But unfortunately, as we discussed last month, Harvin's availability truly needs to be considered a week-to-week deal.
With Harvin still not clear of the migraines and Sidney Rice sidelined for at least another four weeks because of a hip injury, you can understand the desperation the Vikings feel and why they will push for Jackson right up to the 4 p.m. ET deadline. For whatever it's worth, quarterback Brett Favre pushed back his weekly news conference to Thursday. Like everyone else, he's waiting for the final word. We'll let you know when we know.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- On a Tuesday afternoon last week, Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb watched one of his star wideouts, Jeremy Maclin, get carted off the field. The same thing had happened to DeSean Jackson a couple days earlier. You would think Kolb might be worried, but that's not an emotion that suits him. Kolb spent the three weeks before camp playing out every possible scenario in his mind so that setbacks like these wouldn't affect him.
"I tried to play out the good situations and the bad situations in my mind," Kolb told the NFC East blog. "I need to stay consistent as the quarterback of this team, so I imagined what all could go wrong and sort of told myself how I was going to react. Only 32 guys in the world that will get this opportunity, and I don't want the opportunity to pass me by."
If you were expecting a wide-eyed quarterback trying to grow into a job, you've come to the wrong place. Handed the task of following the best quarterback in the history of the franchise, Kolb just doesn't seem fazed. With Jackson and Maclin both out of Wednesday's practice, Kolb started firing balls to rookie Riley Cooper. Kolb entered the league in the same rookie class as linebacker Stewart Bradley and Brent Celek in 2007, and everyone's known those players would eventually take over the team in terms of leadership. But it was still stunning when the Eagles pulled the trigger on the biggest trade of the offseason.
Kolb has reached out to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to ask him about following an elite quarterback. And he's also struck up a texting friendship with Cowboys Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, which may make a few fans queasy. Recently, Kolb spent hours watching an old tape of Aikman because "he was unbelievably accurate."
Kolb is relishing the Eagles' new underdog role and he understands that a lot of that has to do with him being the starter. He understands there's added pressure playing quarterback in a city that seems to base its identity on how the Eagles are performing. But he seems to have the right temperament.
"I played in front of 15,000 people when I was 15," said Kolb. "I think playing high school football in Texas gives you a good foundation. And now that I'm a little older, I think I'll be able to handle 70,000."
1. Will this offensive line have any continuity heading into the season?
When the Eagles lost center Jamaal Jackson last year in the playoffs, the offensive line was in trouble. Nick Cole had done a nice job at right guard, but he was thrown into a bad situation at center. Jackson is still recovering from a knee injury and will likely be sidelined to start the season. Cole's been banged-up in practice and it's not like Mike McGlynn and A.Q. Shipley inspire a lot of confidence. The most consistent player on the offensive line last season, left guard Todd Herremans, has missed the first part of camp with a foot injury. You don't want Kolb lining up behind an offensive line that features a different player every week.
2. Do the Eagles have the best receiving corps in the league?
When Maclin and Jackson are healthy, the Eagles may have the most dangerous group in the league. Jason Avant is one of the best third receivers in the league, and he can bail out a quarterback on third down. Kolb's biggest strength is his accuracy. He knows how important it is to deliver the ball to Jackson and Maclin in stride. If you're wondering why this team seems to have such a quiet confidence, just look at these receivers. Throw in the fact that Kolb and Celek are best friends and you have the makings of a Tony Romo-Jason Witten combination.
The Eagles never recovered from the loss of Brian Dawkins via free agency last season. They tried just about everyone at his old position, but it was a nightmare. Allen has looked like a starter from the day he stepped off the bus. He's mature beyond his years and moves with a grace that belies his inexperience. I think the Eagles made great use of the Donovan McNabb pick (No. 37) in landing Allen. And the former South Florida star doesn't appear to feel any added pressure because of where he was taken. It's easy to see that he would've been starting in front of Marlin Jackson even if he'd remained healthy.
I know it's tough to call a first-rounder a "surprise," but Brandon Graham has exceeded everyone's expectations. I love how he's spent time in the film room studying some of the shorter defensive ends around the league. And then he immediately takes some of the moves (Elvis Dumervil) to the field. The Eagles' offensive line doesn't know what to do with Graham, and I think other NFC East offensive tackles will have the same issue. Graham is learning how to use his arms at this level and he already gets incredibly low to the ground when he's turning the corner. He's been the story of camp in a lot of ways. Can't wait to see him in a game. And one more surprise: Ellis Hobbs is having an excellent camp after returning from a neck injury.
There's nothing that really jumps out at this point other than the offensive line issues. But I'd like to see more from Darryl Tapp. The defensive end was hoping to jump-start his career after coming over in a trade from Seattle. He just looks out of place in Sean McDermott's defense right now. In the practice sessions I observed, he didn't really make anything happen.
- Cooper is taking full advantage of the extra repetitions. He made the catch of the day last Wednesday when one of Kolb's passes was tipped by Tapp. Cooper cut off his route and made a diving catch in the flat. Seems like he's quickly becoming a fan favorite and he could actually play himself into the rotation this season. General manager Howie Roseman's a Florida grad, so look for the Gator connection to continue. I don't think Hank Baskett is long for this roster, but he and Kolb did hook up on a deep ball.
- I talked to second-year running back LeSean McCoy about how he's improved his lower-body strength. He thinks he left a lot of yards on the field because he didn't break enough tackles. I think it's helping McCoy to have Duce Staley in camp serving a camp internship.
- Rookie free safety Kurt Coleman out of Ohio State has made a favorable impression but was called for pass interference Wednesday when Kolb used an excellent play-action fake to free up McCoy down the sideline. You can tell that McCoy's going to show up in the passing game a lot more this season.
- This is the only camp I've attended where fans tailgate in the parking lots between morning and afternoon practices. Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seemed to get caught up in the moment when he remembered that he'd visited the Lehigh University campus when he was deciding on colleges a few years back.
- Bradley destroyed Eldra Buckley when he made the mistake of trying to jump over a pile. And when Buckley made a catch in the flat, former Lions linebacker Ernie Sims lit him up. Sims stared down at him like Chuck Bednarik once did to Frank Gifford. As I noted in my observations last week, Andy Reid's team hits harder than any of the other teams in the division during camp. We're not simply talking about thuds. I'm talking about linebackers taking ball carriers to the ground. This is how things were done about 20 years ago across the league. Roseman told me that the Eagles felt like it was important to quickly introduce the rookies to how physical the league is.
- I watched Reid take Kolb aside Wednesday and have a long conversation. I think he and McNabb had such an understanding that they rarely had to have a lot of long discussions. But I'm not saying that's a negative about Kolb. It seems like Reid's sort of rejuvenated by the thought of having to coach a quarterback all the way through practice. I remember Bill Parcells saying that about Romo all the time. "You have to coach him all the way through the game," Parcells would say. Reid didn't think that was a big deal when I brought it up, but it's obvious he's spending more time with Kolb. And the two seem to have a great rapport. In fact, Kolb already takes the sharp stick to Reid at times.
He caught on with the Colts and played in the Super Bowl. Of course, the downside to that story is that he's the guy who mishandled the onside kick that energized the Saints to open the second half. Baskett addressed that topic with local reporters Friday.
"I thought everybody was going to come down on me for it, but ... anybody who follows football knows that one play does not change a game," said Baskett. "It sucks that the first onsides kick in [Super Bowl] history before the fourth quarter had to happen to me."
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman released the following statement regarding Baskett:
"Hank adds solid depth to our wide receiving group, plus is a productive special-teams player," said Roseman. "He is a good teammate and obviously is a positive influence in the locker room and is a high-character person. We're excited about welcoming he and his family back to the Eagles."
Baskett is a former Eagles player who spent the past season with the Colts. He'll always be known as the guy who mishandled the Saints' onside kick in the Super Bowl, but he's a very capable player. Baskett had 72 catches for 1,080 yards and six touchdowns in three seasons with the Eagles. With the Reggie Brown trade this week, the Eagles needed to add some depth at receiver.
They also signed former Air Force running back/receiver Chad Hall, who's been on active duty the past two seasons. Once Hall negotiates his release from the Air Force, he should be able to join the Eagles' offseason conditioning program. But something tells me Hall's kept himself in pretty good shape at Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City.
Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Dunta Robinson, WR Kevin Walter, RB Chris Brown, DT Jeff Zgonina, G Chester Pitts, S Brian Russell, S Nick Ferguson, LS Bryan Pittman, LB Chaun Thompson, QB Rex Grossman, LB Khary Campbell, G Tutan Reyes, T Ephraim Salaam, P Matt Turk.
Potential restricted free agents: DL Tim Bulman, S John Busing, OT Rashad Butler, TE Owen Daniels, RB Ryan Moats, S Bernard Pollard, LB DeMeco Ryans, G Chris White.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: I don’t think the Texans will jump out and make any monumental moves. But by deciding not to tag Robinson they created another hole and saved themselves big dollars. With needs at corner, running back, free safety, interior offensive line and defensive tackle they may have more than they can address in one draft. That means they could jump out for one significant free agent – like they did last year with defensive lineman Antonio Smith -- and maybe another less expensive one or two.
Potential unrestricted free agents: MLB Gary Brackett, K Matt Stover.
Potential restricted free agents: WR Hank Baskett, S Antoine Bethea, S Melvin Bullitt, OL Dan Federkeil, CB Aaron Francisco, LB Tyjuan Hagler, CB Marlin Jackson, CB Tim Jennings, DT Antonio Johnson, OT Charlie Johnson, LB Freddy Keiaho, DT Dan Muir, CBPR T.J. Rushing.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: Brackett is priority one and the team has indicated a plan to pay him as an upper-echelon guy. The restricted list includes a lot of key guys who will remain big factors next year. Indy is not a team that looks to bring in many outsiders for big roles and it won’t start now. Bill Polian’s said the Colts will sit back and see how things unfold in the new capless landscape.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Reggie Hayward, G Kynan Forney.
Potential restricted free agents: DT Atiyyah Ellison, LB Clint Ingram, DL Greg Peterson.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Jaguars are draft-reliant, but will also shop for bargains in free agency, hoping to plug a couple holes with high-character guys with upside who fit what they are doing. As for a big splash, it’s unlikely based on their recent busts with big-name free agents like Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence and the direction they’ve moved since.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, C Kevin Mawae, LB Keith Bulluck, TE Alge Crumpler, CB Nick Harper, CB Rod Hood, DE Jevon Kearse, S Kevin Kaesviharn.
Potential restricted free agents: DE Dave Ball, DT Tony Brown, TE Bo Scaife, LB Stephen Tulloch, DT Kevin Vickerson, RB LenDale White.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Titans will undergo a youth movement, especially on defense where Vanden Bosch and Bulluck, who’s recovering from ACL repair, are going to be allowed to walk. Mawae been told his only chance to return is as a backup at a backup price. Brown, Scaife and Tulloch are important guys they’ll want to retain. Beyond that, expect mostly bargain shopping.
- DL Tim Bulman – Right of first refusal.
- S John Busing – Not tendered.
- OT Rashad Butler -- Third.
- TE Owen Daniels – First and third.
- RB Ryan Moats – Third.
- S Bernard Pollard – First.
- LB DeMeco Ryans – First and third.
- G Chris White – Right of first refusal.
- WR Hank Baskett
- S Antoine Bethea – First.
- S Melvin Bullitt
- OL Dan Federkeil
- CB Aaron Francisco
- LB Tyjuan Hagler
- CB Marlin Jackson
- CB Tim Jennings
- DT Antonio Johnson
- OT Charlie Johnson
- LB Freddy Keiaho
- DT Dan Muir
- CB/PR T.J. Rushing
- DE Dave Ball – Second.
- DT Tony Brown – First.
- TE Bo Scaife – First at 110% or nearly $4.9 million.
- LB Stephen Tulloch –First.
- DT Kevin Vickerson –Second.
- RB LenDale White –Second.
Another special-teams error came from Chad Simpson. The guy is not an explosive returner. If he’s not positive he’s getting to the 20 or beyond, he better take a touchback. So what is he doing at the end of the third quarter bringing out a kickoff from 4 yards deep when the best he could manage was the 11-yard line?
Reggie Wayne’s effort on two big passes seemed questionable. He and Manning can praise Tracy Porter endlessly, but Wayne seemed to give up on the route. He allowed Porter to gain position on a pattern analysts say he’s got to be sure continues and crosses the corner who’s in coverage. The move he made before he made his break didn’t look like much and the cut wasn’t very sharp. TV only showed it for a quick second, but Manning went to Wayne before walking off the field, head down, and said something to Wayne who kind of shook his head no and shrugged.
The Colts would have had to retrieve an onside kick and scored another touchdown, but Wayne also botched a TD catch near the end of the game. I asked him what happened there and he said he wasn’t in the end zone and was trying to ensure he had proper depth as he made the catch to make sure it was a score.
Maybe he was slow playing it, but Wayne seemed almost disinterested in his crossing route from wide to the left to between the hashes, and as the ball went through his hands, I didn’t think he was worrying about his depth, I thought he was worrying about Scott Shanle preparing to pop him.
Two other things of interest at this point in the game: On the first timeout, Manning signaled for it, then tried to change his mind. I was surprised by his indecision. And the third-down run call at 1:10 is just silly. The Colts couldn't afford the 21 seconds they lost when Joseph Addai was stuffed.
"I'm the one that's over here with my lip puffed out," Wayne said Sunday night in a tent outside Sun Life Stadium. "So apparently it was a good call."
Wayne and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts' offense were left standing on the sideline when the New Orleans Saints pulled off the big gamble.
Experience was supposed to be the difference-maker for the Colts. They'd been on this grand stage before. The Saints had not.
Yet, the Colts were caught unprepared.
The Saints recovered the kick and, six plays later, established themselves as an underdog on paper only. The Saints went on to win 31-17, and leave the Colts wondering about all the plays that got away.
"I didn't see it coming," Colts right tackle Ryan Diem said. "At that point in the game, I didn't expect them to do anything like that. The element of surprise got us."
Indianapolis was eager to get the ball first after halftime.
Peyton Manning directed the Colts' offense with his usual meticulousness in the first quarter. First possession: 11 plays, 53 yards, field goal. Second possession: 11 plays, 96 yards, touchdown.
Then came the second quarter. The Colts short-circuited, experiencing their first lamentable play. On third-and-4 from their 28-yard line, Manning zipped a short pass to Pierre Garcon. The play should have gone for a big gain, but Garcon dropped the ball.
"I seen it late, but I should've made the catch," Garcon said. "It was a great throw by Peyton. It should've been caught.
"It could've made the difference in the game."
Instead, the Colts were forced to punt for the first time. In the second quarter, they ran only six plays -- the second three-and-out series simply running out the clock. They gained 15 yards. They maintained possession for 2:34.
Still, the Colts seemed to be in control. They snuffed Saints running back Pierre Thomas on a fourth-and-goal run play that looked like it would doom Payton to a lifetime of second-guessing in New Orleans.
The double-team tackle by Colts linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session was the type of stop that championship teams make.
"The goal-line stand was big," Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said, "but you've got to play the rest of the game."
They led the Saints by four points at the extended Super Bowl intermission, and as Pete Townshend churned windmills on his guitar, the Colts strategized to bust the game open.
"In the locker room, we just talked about getting the ball back and going down and scoring some points and putting them in a hole," Wayne said.
The Saints concocted a plan to chop the Colts off at the knees. Thomas Morstead, who handles their kickoffs, was given the onside green light.
"Thomas came up and told me that we were running 'Ambush,' " field-goal kicker Garrett Hartley said. "To start off the second half of the Super Bowl, nothing like it. It's a gut shot, and it worked out in our favor."
Six plays later, Saints quarterback Drew Brees connected with Thomas on a 16-yard pass to give them a 13-10 lead.
"Every possession felt precious out there," Manning said.
The Colts did recover, mounting a typical 10-play, 76-yard drive to retake the lead on their next series.
But the tone had been set. The Saints were willing to trade shots all night, to get aggressive.
The Colts buckled.
"The Saints got some momentum there at the end of the first half and beginning of the third quarter and kind of kept the momentum from there," Manning said. "I thought we just didn't play well enough at certain times."
Indianapolis was outfoxed and outplayed by a team that hadn't been there, done that.
DAVIE, Fla. -- On a day when defensive end Dwight Freeney did not practice but cornerback Jerraud Powers got in some work, another player had to leave the Colts’ third Super Bowl practice of the week after aggravating an existing injury: Indianapolis all-pro wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
Wayne pulled up short running a pass-route late in the workout and left Colts’ practice 20 minutes before it ended Friday with what coach Jim Caldwell said was an injury to the fat pad in his right knee.
Caldwell said he didn’t believe the injury was serious, and Wayne walked off the field unassisted into the trainers room at the Miami Dolphins practice facility. Backup wideout Hank Baskett took his place in the remainder of the 1-hour, 25-minute workout, covering mostly short-yardage and red-zone work on a typical Friday practice day for the Colts.
“He just irritated the fat pad in his knee,’’ Caldwell said.
The fat pad is the collection of soft tissue below the kneecap that protects the underlying structure of the knee. Wayne has had the injury much of the season and played through it, and it apparently was quite manageable: He finished his second all-pro season in the last three years with 100 catches for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns, playing all 16 regular-season games and both so far in the playoffs.
In other Colts’ injury news, the team got a boost with the limited practice work done Friday by Powers. It’s the first time Powers has practiced or played since injuring the foot in the first quarter of the Jan. 16 division playoff victory over Baltimore. “There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be out there Sunday,’’ Powers said on Wednesday, but the team listed him as questionable in its final injury report of the week.
Wayne was listed as probable to play against the Saints on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIV, while Freeney was listed as questionable. Caldwell said Freeney “may do’’ a little running or simulated practice work later Friday afternoon, and though Freeney had said Thursday he would try to practice some on Friday, Caldwell said, “This is right in line with our plans. He’s making very good progress.’’ Freeney suffered a third-degree ankle sprain in the AFC Championship Game victory over the Jets on Jan. 24 and has not practiced in the 12 days since.
The Colts will have their customary 40-minute walkthrough practice Saturday at noon, but for all intents and purposes, this was the team’s last serious pre-Super Bowl practice. Caldwell said he was satisfied with the quality of work and the site of team practices while in south Florida.
“We get spoiled because we practice so well all year long,’’ he said. “Overall, these practices were right in line with what we’ve done all year, and we’re pleased. The Dolphins have a first-class facility and have given us an open-arms reception. We’re grateful for it. Things have worked out great for us here.’’
DAVIE, Fla. -- Veteran left guard Ryan Lilja missed the second day of the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts’ practice week Thursday with what coach Jim Caldwell called a back injury that he did not think would jeopardize the six-year-veteran’s status for Sunday’s Super Bowl match against the New Orleans Saints.
“I suspect he’ll be ready to play,’’ Caldwell said as night fell in south Florida, after the Colts’ two-hour, 15-minute practice that ended under the lights.
The severity of the injury to Lilja, who was one of 20 Colts listed on the injury report, was unclear. Seventeen of those 20 players practiced without restriction Thursday, with only defensive end Dwight Freeney (ankle) and cornerback Jerraud Powers (foot) missing any portion of practice. Both missed the entire workout while receiving treatment inside the Dolphins’ practice facility, Caldwell said.
Asked about the health of Freeney and Powers, Caldwell said: “They’re both improving rapidly.’’ Freeney said earlier in the day he may try to test his grade-three ankle sprain in Friday’s practice or during Saturday’s walkthrough.
Caldwell said this was a typical Colts’ Thursday practice, though almost all of the team’s gameplan was installed last week in Indianapolis. He said the team “wasn’t as sharp as we’d like to be,’’ though you couldn’t tell by the effectiveness of the first-team offense. In four nickel and two-minute offensive sessions in the last hour of practice, Peyton Manning completed 25 of 28 throws against a crew of Colt backups posing at the Saint scout. His last throw in one of the two-minute sessions was a perfectly thrown rollout to Dallas Clark in the end zone. It was the second straight sharp practice for Manning, prepping for his second Super Bowl start in four seasons.
“If you watch us practice,’’ Caldwell said, “the thing you notice with Peyton is the ball is not on the ground very often. The way he threw today was typical Peyton.’’
The highlight for the defense was an interception off scout-team quarterback Curtis Painter by linebacker Clint Session on a deflected pass off the hands of backup receiver Hank Baskett. To the cheers of his defensive mates, Session picked the ball off and ran up the left sideline.
For the second straight day, the Colts seemed loose and businesslike on a perfect day for football -- 71 degrees, mostly sunny with a slight wind from the east. Manning finished the last offensive drive of the day as dusk fell on the complex with a short touchdown strike to Clark.
The Colts resume practice Friday at the Dolphins complex at 2:15 p.m., with a final walk-through tuneup here Saturday.
They could lose Sunday to Tennessee, a hot and dangerous team that’s played as well or better than the Colts in recent weeks. The AFC South rivals have split the season series the past three years -- though a couple of games at the end of those seasons had no meaning for one or both teams. The Titans are seeking to avenge a 31-9 loss on "Sunday Night Football" Oct. 11 and have far more to lose as they try to claw their way into the wild-card picture.
But even if the Colts beat the Titans, they’ll drop at least a game down the stretch when they take their foot off the gas. Coach Jim Caldwell and president Bill Polian have each made it clear that an undefeated season isn’t the team’s goal. Polian says momentum heading into the playoffs is an overrated concept.
Like the Titans, the Broncos will have more on the line than the Colts when they visit Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 13.
A team that’s been beat up a lot this year will rest a lot of injured or tired players in games that don’t mean anything at the end of the season. Pull Dwight Freeney, Clint Session and Antoine Bethea off the defense and even the Jets and Bills will find yards. And is Jim Sorgi throwing to Hank Baskett going to put fear into New York or Buffalo?
Getting in position to win in the playoffs trumps everything. It hasn’t been something this team’s done well outside of its 2006 championship season. But it’s hardly thinking of an undefeated regular season as any sort of prerequisite.
Here’s how ESPN.com national writers John Clayton and Len Pasquarelli see it.
Clayton: The reason the Colts will not go 16-0 is because they don’t need to go 16-0. At different times during Manning’s incredible career, the Colts have flirted with the perfect regular season. Once they clinched home field, they started to think ahead to the playoffs, which left them vulnerable to a loss. That will be the case again this year.
Their remaining five games are winnable. They play teams with a combined record of 27-28, the 14th-easiest closing schedule in the league. Indianapolis’ only two remaining opponents with winning records are the Broncos (Dec. 13) and Jaguars (Dec. 17). They can win those games. But it’s also possible for the Colts to clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs once they get to 13 wins. Once that happens, the Colts will focus on the playoffs.
Manning, Polian and everyone who has been around the organization realize the idea is to win two games in the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl. That’s why they will start figuring out how to rest starters, including Manning, in the final three weeks. If that happens, they could lose to the Jets on Dec. 27 or the Bills on Jan. 3.
It would take a monumental collapse in December for the Colts to have to leave Lucas Oil Stadium for a postseason game, and the likelihood of that is extremely remote. On the other hand, once they clinch that right, there is no other carrot to dangle in front of the noses of the prideful Colts, save for a perfect season. And remaining unbeaten going into the playoffs isn’t a big priority for a Colts team that has now been to the postseason eight straight times, but owns just one Super Bowl ring.
The priority for Indianapolis, as always, remains winning a championship, not every regular-season outing. Polian earlier this week debunked the importance of momentum entering the playoffs. That admission could be a tacit tip-off to the Colts’ strategy of resting some starters in December, and remaining as healthy as possible for the postseason. The Colts, who play every game with great intensity, will succumb to a degree of human nature once they clinch home-field advantage, and ratchet down just a hair, enough to drop a close game to someone.