Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dungy's Decision; Would Colts Coach Go for History or Rest His Stars?

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dungy's Decision; Would Colts Coach Go for History or Rest His Stars?

Article excerpt

Byline: BART HUBBUCH

Tony Dungy will face a dilemma that every coach dreams about if his Indianapolis Colts win Sunday.

A victory over the Jaguars not only would clinch the AFC South, but it also would give Indianapolis a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFL playoffs -- all with three games left in the regular season.

Sounds like the perfect scenario for Dungy to rest quarterback Peyton Manning and his other stars until the postseason.

But there's this other dilemma. The Colts would be 13-0, putting them on track to become the only team to go unbeaten in a 16-game schedule in 1978 and the first since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to post a perfect regular season.

That's why Dungy finds himself being pulled in opposite directions this week as the Colts prepare to face their division rivals at Alltel Stadium.

"It's purely in the hypothetical stage right now,'' Dungy said, trying to downplay what has become a hot topic in the national media. "It's not something that we spend our time fantasizing about because our team really feels like we haven't accomplished any of our goals yet."

But to a lesser extent, Dungy has been in this situation before. Indianapolis had nothing to play for entering its 2004 regular-season finale, prompting Dungy to rest most of his premier players during a 33-14 loss to the Denver Broncos.

The Colts' vaunted "Triplets'' made mere cameos during that game: Manning played just three snaps, running back Edgerrin James had one carry, and wide receiver Marvin Harrison came out after two quarters.

Dungy admitted his actions last season could be an indication of his plans this year if the Colts are 13-0 entering its final three games against the San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals.

"If you want to look at history, that's an easy one,'' Dungy said, referring to the Denver game. "That wasn't that long ago."

For Dungy, resting starters to avoid injury when there's nothing to play for during the regular season makes sense. He's more interested in the Colts winning their first Super Bowl since moving to Indianapolis in 1984 than posting a perfect regular season.

"The idea is to win the championship, and that's what your goal is coming in,'' he said. "Obviously, that's what we're going to be focused on."

On the flip side, the 1988 Broncos faced the exact same scenario that Dungy would have on his hands should the Colts win Sunday.

Denver was 13-0 and had clinched the AFC's No. 1 seed with a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. But rather than rest quarterback John Elway and running back Terrell Davis, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan decided to go for an unbeaten record.

Denver lost two of its final three games, but Elway and Davis stayed healthy and the team went on to win its second consecutive Super Bowl.

If Dungy chooses to rest his starters during the final three games if the Colts still are unbeaten, he would have a powerful voice backing up that decision: team owner Jim Irsay. …

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