Most popular stories from USA TODAY

  1. HF Test1038.04:15:02.6626291
As Colts advance, thoughts of what could have been linger
Updated 1/18/2010 6:22 PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS — Had the Indianapolis Colts lost on Saturday, coach Jim Caldwell would have been the most second-guessed man in the NFL. We'll never know whether some Colts fans, still miffed by their team's lost shot at a perfect season, might have booed the home team again.

Instead, the Colts are preparing to host the AFC title game.

Their no-rust performance in a 20-3 divisional round playoff victory Saturday night over the Baltimore Ravens brought cheers from fans waving "United We Stand" placards at Lucas Oil Stadium.

As he awaited Sunday's determination of the Colts next foe, Caldwell said it wasn't about validation of his decision to rest his starters in recent weeks instead of going for a 16-0 regular season.

PHOTOS: Divisional playoffs highlights ROAD TO THE SUPER BOWL: Results, schedule

"Winning the game had nothing to do with vindication or retribution or anything of that nature," said Caldwell, the first-year successor to Tony Dungy as Colts coach. "It was just putting ourselves in what we feel would be the best opportunity to take advantage of the situation, and our guys played well."

But the Colts were aware of their coach's situation.

"Coach Caldwell took a little bit of heat at the end of this season," said safety Melvin Bullitt. "People were doubting us, but we came through."

With their 13-0 start, the Colts wrapped up home field throughout the AFC playoffs. They went to 14-0 the next week at Jacksonville.

After Caldwell pulled quarterback Peyton Manning and other starters in the third quarter of a game they were leading, but ended as a 29-15 loss to the New York Jets, Colts fans booed loudly. Caldwell said his goal was to have his team rested and healthy for the postseason.

Indianapolis took the field Saturday night against a Ravens team coming off a pounding of the New England Patriots. The question was whether the Colts would be rusty following a bye and not playing for keeps since mid-December.

But the Colts' fast (and rested) defense held Baltimore to a field goal. Manning threw two touchdowns in the final two minutes before halftime to give the Colts a 17-3 lead en route to the win.

That doesn't mean all Colts fans will forget the lost perfection.

"Nah, not at all," said wide receiver Reggie Wayne. " … Probably the further we go, probably the more upset they'll get. But we'll take that. That's how it is. One way we can help the cause is to win the Super Bowl."

In the decade from 2000 to the end of this regular season, the Colts won 115 regular season games, most ever by an NFL team in a decade. They won a Super Bowl title in the 2006 season.

During preseason, Caldwell talked with the team about a booked titled, Why the Mighty Fall, a look at the corporate world authored by Jim Collins.

"He's talking about companies he's researched, etc. but the same thing I think can be applied to our profession as well," said Caldwell.

"We found that our team for the most part stayed away from those things (that make the mighty fall). They were very humble, they didn't become arrogant. … We didn't change much from the center, the core of how we've been successful year in and year out."

But there is always a but.

In that same 2000-2009 span, the Colts were one-and-done five times in their eight trips to postseason play. Going back to 1999, Manning and the Colts also had been 0-3 in playoff games following a bye week. That, too, was erased by Saturday night's win.

Caldwell said past results aren't relevant to the task at hand.

"We try to keep them fairly focused. They can't necessarily tell you exactly what happened in some of those years and why it occurred," he said. "But the thing that we know for certain is that it all boils down to what happens on that particular day at that time. … You can practice well, but if you don't carry it to the game and don't play well, you're going to have some difficulty."

Posted 1/17/2010 10:57 PM ET
Updated 1/18/2010 6:22 PM ET
The Colts' win on Saturday ended the two-game losing skid that ended their regular season.
By Robert Scheer, The Indianapolis Star
The Colts' win on Saturday ended the two-game losing skid that ended their regular season.

Copyright © 2011 www.greenbaypressgazette.com. All rights reserved. Users of this site agree to the Terms of Service, Privacy Notice, and Ad Choices