INDIANAPOLIS - Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts accepted Jim Caldwell's plan.
But the hometown fans didn’t like the imperfect ending.
With Manning and a handful of other key players standing on the sideline hoping to rally the Colts (14-1) from yet another second-half deficit Sunday, Caldwell never gave them a chance.
The New York Jets ended the Colts’ pursuit of perfection and their NFL-record 23-game winning streak with a 29-15 victory that had fans serenading Lucas Oil Stadium with boos and Manning, the three-time MVP, offering support for his coach’s decision.
“Until any player in here is the head coach, you follow orders and you follow them with all of your heart,” Manning said. “That’s what we’ve done as players. We follow orders. Our orders were not to give up a turnover, not to give up a kick return for a touchdown. There’s not many games, under any circumstances, that you win when you have turnovers and give up a kick return for a touchdown.”
The victory was more significant to the Jets (8-7), who took control of their playoff destiny with the victory, and would make the postseason for the first time since 2006 with a win Sunday at home against AFC North champion Cincinnati.
But for the Colts, it marked the end to a historic quest they had insisted was not a priority.
Only one other team – the 2007 New England Patriots – had gone 15-0 in the regular season. Only two other teams, those Patriots and the ’72 Miami Dolphins, have gone into the playoffs with a perfect record.
Caldwell, players and team president Bill Polian, however, said perfection was never the goal; winning the Super Bowl was. And on Sunday, they showed exactly what they meant.
The first-year coach pulled Manning & Co. with a 15-10 lead and 5 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Stunned fans didn’t react immediately, but when Curtis Painter, Manning’s replacement, returned to the field for his second series, the boos began.
They grew louder when Painter was hit by linebacker Calvin Pace and lost the ball, with Marques Douglas recovering and scoring. A two-point conversion pass from Mark Sanchez to Dustin Keller made it 18-15 and put the Colts’ hopes in jeopardy.
“Indianapolis earned the right to do whatever they want,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “That’s a heck of a football team.”