Quest for perfection has flaws


The NFL playoffs are a month away, and already Tony Dungy is caught in the eye of a perfect storm.

His goal all year has been to get the Indianapolis Colts into - and win - the Super Bowl. But the Colts' tantalizing run at a perfect season has raised the stakes of that venture and placed the veteran coach on a different kind of hot seat.

Dungy has a strong history of resting stars late in the season, once his team has secured its most favorable playoff seeding. Today, with a victory in Jacksonville over the Jaguars, Indianapolis can lock up the AFC South title and home-field advantage through the playoffs.

Then what?

Sit down quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James and defensive end Dwight Freeney for three games to ensure they're healthy for the postseason?

Or make a hard run at history, play everybody and see where the chips fall?

The likelihood is that Dungy will opt for compromise and find a middle ground, although he certainly can be expected to sit any player with a lingering injury.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, however. A win over the Jaguars is hardly automatic. Jacksonville is 9-3 and breathing fire over the Colts. Last week, coach Jack Del Rio added his voice to the complaint that the Colts pump up the decibel level at the RCA Dome with something more than fan enthusiasm.

"They've done it for a long time," Del Rio said of a charge that surfaced after the Colts dismantled the Pittsburgh Steelers two Monday nights ago.

Why didn't he complain before?

"Why waste my time?" Del Rio said. "You would hope people would do the right thing ethically, but it's a waste of my time to worry about it. When we get ready to go up there, [we know] it's going to be loud and it's not always the fans making the noise. But let's deal with it."

For only the second time in the Jaguars' history, they have sold all tickets for a home game, such is the furor over the Colts' bid for perfection. Even the San Diego Chargers, due in Indianapolis next week with their season on the line, have a rooting interest in how the Colts do today.

Chargers quarterback Drew Brees admitted last week that he hopes the Colts win "so they'll be undefeated when we go there."

The decision on how the Colts treat the last three games if they win today is squarely on Dungy. Owner Jim Irsay said he would not interfere with the process. Players appear to be quietly campaigning for their shot at matching the 1972 Miami Dolphins' perfect season.

"My only answer is, it's my job to play every week, and I like to play," Manning said. "That's all I'm going to say about it."

Said defensive tackle Montae Reagor: "Why stop now? You all know what we want to do: win a championship. But we don't want to lose games, either. We've talked about it amongst ourselves. Nobody wants to quit. We all want to keep this train moving."

It's unlikely Dungy will be dissuaded from his philosophy of resting key players, but it's also unlikely he'll sit out players for as many as two games the way Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid did last season.

Perhaps Dungy will opt to play his stars through the first half of those final games. Or not. Either way, he said he will not play to lose.

"We're not going to play a game to lose no matter who plays, and I don't think you would say, `I hope [we] lose one because we'll be better off,'" he said. "We want to win them all."

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