Benching the starters

Much to the fans dismay, NFL head coaches are right to be more concerned with keeping starters healthy than winning meaningless games.

Tyler Gilliam
Tyler Gilliam

In Week 16 of the NFL season, only one undefeated team remained: the Indianapolis Colts with a 14-0 record and a 22-game regular-season winning streak.

With 5:36 left in the third quarter of the Jets’ game, Colts’ head coach Jim Caldwell benched almost all of his starters on offense and defense, including quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Reggie Wayne. The Jets started to take over at that point. Jets’ linebacker Calvin Pace sacked and stripped the ball from Colts’ quarterback Curtis Painter, which led to the go-ahead touchdown. The Jets won the game 29-15, putting the Colts’ dreams of an undefeated season to rest, while the unhappy fans booed Caldwell’s decision for the entire fourth quarter.

During the post-game press conference, Caldwell defended his actions by stating that he and Colts’ team president, Bill Polian’s, goal as an organization is to win the Super Bowl, not to go 16-0. A local radio show had callers who weren’t buying what Polian was saying. They called him “arrogant” and said he “basically spit in our faces.” Caldwell’s action didn’t affect just his team. Teams that were 9-7 and had a chance to make the wild card game, like the Steelers and Texans, didn’t make the playoffs because the Colts let the Jets win.

Meanwhile, in Foxboro, Mass., the Patriots were playing the Houston Texans. After catching a pass from quarterback Tom Brady, Patriots’ wide receiver Wes Welker made a cut to avoid a defender. Though he went untouched, Welker tore his ACL and MCL in the process. Welker’s injury took place in the first quarter with the Patriots only up by a few points.

Although Welker was injured in the meaningless game, New England head coach Bill Belichick made the right decision in playing all his starters. When the players step on the football field, they’re there to win. Belichick couldn’t predict that the injury was going to happen. Had the injury taken place in the third or fourth quarter with the Patriots winning, then the fans would’ve questioned Belichick’s coaching strategy.

In New Orleans, the Saints were playing their last regular- season game against the Carolina Panthers. With the top seed in the NFC already clinched, Saints head coach Sean Peyton had nothing to worry about. Peyton decided to start second-string quarterback Mark Brunell instead of regular starter Drew Brees. This action also helped keep Brees’ NFL completion record at 70.60 percent, beating 1982 Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Ken Anderson’s record of 70.55 percent.

Avid Colts fan and NW freshman Davis Millard was not happy with Caldwell’s decision.

He feels that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should make some rules against coaches benching their starters.

“It defeats the competition in the league,” Millard said. “I feel sorry for Welker getting injured, but it’s a risk you take every game.”

By sitting their starters, the Colts and Saints kept their most important players injury-free. This proved to be a wise decision, considering both teams are playing each other in the Super Bowl. A good coaching strategy to keep the starters healthy when the team is already going to the playoffs is to sit them. It may not make the fans happy to see their team lose in the last few regular season games, but they’d rather see their team in a Super Bowl than the starting quarterback injured when they’ve already made the playoffs.