JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If they're playing, they aren't saying.
|Peyton Manning: 'It's a decision I don't have to make.' (Getty Images)|
Let me say this: I'm tired of the perfection talk already. We have the New Orleans Saints going for it, three victories from getting there. And the Colts are two victories from it now after winning at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium against the Jaguars.
"Now that we have this one, and we need only two more, I say we go for it," Colts linebacker Clint Session said. "We're close."
But the man who will make the decision, Colts coach Jim Caldwell, wasn't saying. He said the team will take three days off, come back next Monday, and then go from there.
"Next week we'll deal with next week," Caldwell said.
Manning, who went over 4,000 yards passing in a season for the 10th time in his career against the Jaguars, said he would respect any decision Caldwell makes. Then again, doesn't he have to, even if some think Manning has great input into the decision, which he does not?
"It's a decision I don't have to make," Manning said. "It's a hot topic for debate."
This meaningless game for the Colts sure didn't look like it. They played to win right to the end, and didn't have the game locked up until Jacob Lacey picked off David Garrard with 56 seconds left at the Colts 19.
It was the seventh Indianapolis victory decided by seven points or fewer, which will be good preparation for the playoffs, when playing close in the fourth quarter is usually the way it goes.
Manning finished the night 23 of 30 for 308 yards and four touchdowns. His only interception bounced off the hands of Dallas Clark on what should have been an easy catch. Without that pick, he has a close to perfect night. As it was, he ended up with a passer rating of 134.4, putting him as the lead dog in the race for MVP.
Recap: Colts 35, Jaguars 31
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It was his fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne that gave the Colts the lead that stood up with the Lacy interception. It was a vintage Indianapolis play.
With the Jaguars playing man under and two-deep safeties, Manning sent Austin Collie deep down the seam and Wayne deep down the sideline. Jaguars safety Reggie Nelson jumped the inside route and Manning, thanks to great protection, hit Wayne down the left sideline for a 65-yard touchdown pass and the 35-31 lead with 5:23 left in the game.
As the ball settled into Wayne's arm, you could hear the debate about playing for perfection grow louder again.
The Colts did limit the snaps for defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis because they came into the game a little hobbled. If this had been a game that actually mattered, they would have been on the field a lot more. They probably played 15 or so plays each.
It's that kind of protection of players that could be the road that Caldwell decides to follow the rest of the way. If you're hurting at all, you sit. This isn't a Week 4 game that counts.
Broken fingernail? You're out. Nose hair tingle? You're out.
"We follow orders all year and it's been a good plan," Manning said. "We'll continue to do that."
When I asked Colts running back Joseph Addai about playing on, he said the decision was Caldwell's and they would respect it. But he also made the point that when you're a kid, you dream of winning the Super Bowl, not going undefeated.
"Maybe when you're 50 down the road, that might mean something, but when you're going through it, it's about winning the Super Bowl," Addai said.
Manning agreed when I mentioned that to him later.
"That [winning the Super Bowl] is all that really matters," he said.
Manning, as much as anybody, knows what that Super Bowl ring means. You are defined by it. They said he wasn't complete as a passer until he won one in February 2007.
The Colts have now won 23 consecutive games in the regular season and Caldwell tied George Seifert (San Francisco in 1989) as the only first-year coaches to win 14 games.
Records are falling all over the place with the Colts -- and you can bet they care little about them.
This is a special team, even if it didn't quite play that way Thursday night. They will be a special team even if they don't play their starters the next two games, starting a week from Sunday against the New York Jets, and do lose a game.
"Do we feel fortunate to be undefeated?" Manning said. "Certainly. Anybody that has followed us each week can go back to a lot of games and say, 'Boy, if we don't make that play, we're not undefeated.' The key is we have gotten better and learned from prior games. The main thing is we can keep playing our top level of football down the home stretch."
No, the main thing comes the first week in February. The Colts and Manning have to know that. Caldwell does as well.
Their plan, however, is secret. If they're playing, they weren't saying.