Colts' decision to play it safe leaves Miami's record secure

December 19, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

The 1972 Miami Dolphins are safe for at least another year and the classy thing to do now is to tip your cap to the Indianapolis Colts for winning their first 13 games of the season.

I say to heck with that.

The big debate for the past couple of weeks has been whether the Colts should pull out all the stops and try to make history with a 19-0 NFL season or call off the dogs and keep everyone healthy for the playoffs. I'm not sure how that all plays into yesterday's loss to the San Diego Chargers, but I think it was fairly obvious that the Colts didn't take the field with nearly the same intensity as their playoff-bubble opponent.

Case in point: the broken play on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the second quarter, when quarterback Peyton Manning called an audible and the rest of the offense apparently wasn't listening. The play, which resulted in a big loss that also got the Chargers off their own goal line, probably was the difference in the game.

OK, stuff happens, but I also didn't like coach Tony Dungy's passive end-game strategy. The Colts punted on fourth-and-forever from the Chargers' 38 with 2:36 to play instead of having Mike Vanderjagt attempt a 56-yard field goal to put them in front. The punt netted 18 yards and Chargers running back Michael Turner busted a big play and that was that.

It was one of those irritating percentage calls that NFL coaches make every week. Turn the game over to the defense and try to get the ball back in good field position ... unless you give up one first down to one of the best offensive teams in the league and then your historic winning streak is over.

No doubt, Dungy would explain that Vanderjagt has never kicked a 56-yard field goal, which would be true. His career long is 54 yards, but we're talking history here and the tradeoff is probably 25 yards in field position. If Vanderjagt misses, the Chargers have the ball at their own 46 and if you stop them quickly you've still got the best quarterback in the game with plenty of time to get into field-goal position again.

Instead, the Colts gave up the ball and didn't get it back until it didn't matter anymore. Dungy went with the percentage play when his team had nothing to lose except immortality.

Though I may not agree with the way Dungy coached the final minutes of yesterday's game, at least I understand his rationale. That's way more than I can say about Bill Parcells.

The Big Tuna doesn't like to lose, but if anyone can explain to me why Drew Bledsoe was left in the game to take a huge pounding in the second half of the Cowboys' 35-7 loss at FedEx Field, please write.

Bledsoe was sacked five times during the Cowboys' first 10 offensive plays of the second half - in a 35-point game, for Pete's sake - which you might think would give his coach a moment of pause considering that Dallas still is marginally in the playoff hunt.

To a lesser extent, you can say the same thing about Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who left at least one of his key players in the game too long. Offensive guard Randy Thomas, who has been a very important part of the Redskins' rushing offense, had to be trucked off the field late in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.

Fox analyst Troy Aikman had the line of the day when somebody brought up the fact that former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson has unsuccessfully attempted to become a contestant on Survivor.

"I'd just like to see J.J. after a month in the wild without [hair] gel," Aikman said.

Points off the Fox coverage for a moment in the first half when volatile Cowboys receiver Keyshawn Johnson went ballistic on the sideline after Billy Cundiff missed a field goal.

The Fox cameras showed an enraged Johnson but immediately cut to a commercial. Aikman mentioned a couple of minutes later that Johnson was "going nuts on the sidelines," but there was never any explanation.

Question: Isn't that the kind of thing sideline reporter Pam Oliver is supposed to find out?

Here's another of my NFL pet peeves: Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington got socked with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty for a late-hit-out-of-bounds call yesterday, even though Cowboys tight end Jason Witten clearly was not out of bounds and had turned upfield in an attempt to get more yardage.

I don't think that call should be made unless the offensive player is clearly out of bounds or has surrendered any attempt to advance the ball, but it happens all the time. It's a football game, not a tea party.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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