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Colts have difficult personnel decisions to make
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Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell gestures on the sideline during the third quarter of a game against the Houston Texans in Houston in this Nov. 29 file photo. - photo by Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning and his teammates won't even lobby Colts coach Jim Caldwell to play the final two regular-season games.If Caldwell tells them go for the perfect season, they will bring the same approach that helped them become the NFL's third 14-0 team. If they're told to sit out or play sparingly, even if it means risking an undefeated record, they won't question it.That's how it works in the Indianapolis locker room, where players abide by a simple rule: Follow the leader."It's what we believe in," defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "To be successful in this league, you have to have one voice, so we believe in what coach (Jim) Caldwell says. I think that's why we are successful."Incredibly successful.Indy heads into Sunday's game against the New York Jets with a record 23-game regular-season winning streak, as the only NFL team to ever post seven consecutive 12-win seasons, and with more wins in a decade (115) than any team in league history. The Colts have missed the playoffs only one time this decade and have six division titles since 2003.They've done it with three head coaches since 2000 and only three veterans — Manning, Pro Bowl enter Jeff Saturday and long snapper Justin Snow — around for all 115 wins. And they've excelled this season with the league's second-youngest opening day roster. Both Indy and Miami had an average age of 25.89 years.But the Colts are not on top of the NFL world because of sheer talent; they're here because of a unified attitude.They have cobbled together a group of players who insist what's best for the team is more important than what's best for themselves. It's a throwback to a seemingly bygone era when players didn't dare publicly question the team's braintrust or try to stand out so they could win endorsement deals.Even now, in the midst of Indy's great debate, with prestige and potentially money on the line, the Colts are content to keep it boring in the locker room. They're willing to let others discuss whether the starters should sit or play over the next two weeks while Caldwell makes up his mind."It's not really set up that way, to lobby. I don't think there's one guy in that locker room that's going to tell you, 'No I don't want to play,'" three-time MVP Peyton Manning said after Indianapolis rallied to win at Jacksonville last week. "But we've followed his (Caldwell's) orders all year, and I think that's a good plan. Those are decisions I don't have to make and whatever decision he makes, I think will be the right one."Sure, former league sacks champion Dwight Freeney, Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark have offered their opinions. Each says he's prepared his body for a 16-game grind and they would like to play the games because of their competitive nature.Yet even if sitting out means losing incentive bonuses, failing to meet personal goals or perhaps losing a postseason award or two, they're OK with it."Team comes first around here, even if you have something like that (an incentive clause)," Freeney said. "But the team tries to take care of those things if they can."Here, the Colts understand there are greater goals at stake.Indy insists the only significance of 16-0 is if it can finish 19-0, and the Colts would trade a loss or two now for a perfect record in the playoffs.So over the next couple of weeks, nothing will change. The Colts will listen to Caldwell, follow his instructions and not make waves.Boring, maybe. But it works."The decision makers here have made great decisions and you see it in how they put this team together," Freeney said. "It shows with how many games we've won. I think it starts from the top down, whether it's (team owner) Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, coach (Tony) Dungy or coach Caldwell, and we all believe they will make the best decisions."