Dungy chooses to give Colts 3 days of rest
Players' preparation for AFC title game begins Wednesday
By Phil Richards
January 16, 2007
When the third-seeded Indianapolis Colts dismissed No. 2-seeded Baltimore from the AFC playoffs Saturday, they did more than beat the odds. They beat a fresh football team.
The Ravens were coming off a bye week: no game, a couple of extra days off, a chance to rest the legs and renew the psyche. The Colts were playing their 18th game in 19 weeks.
Football is a brutal enterprise and the NFL's is a brutally long season.
"I don't care who you are, your body's going to break down," said Colts cornerback Nick Harper, who caused a fumble and intercepted a pass during the Colts' 15-6 divisional-round victory. "It doesn't matter how young or old you are, your body is going to break down.
"The more recoup time you get, the better off you'll be."
That's why Colts coach Tony Dungy gave his players Sunday, Monday and today off. They will begin preparations Wednesday for their AFC Championship Game showdown with New England on Sunday at the RCA Dome.
"Three days of preparation is what you need," Dungy said. "Sometimes you can overdo the preparation and I just think at this time of year, being fresh is better."
The record supports him. In 1990, the postseason format was altered to add a second wild-card game, and byes were accorded only to the top two seeds in each conference. From then through last season, teams with first-round byes went 51-13 (.797) in divisional games.
Part of that is playing at home, and part is that the higher-seeded team will usually be the better team. But part of it is rest, fresh legs and clear heads.
That's why Dungy has maintained pretty much since he arrived in 2002 that the greatest advantage afforded by earning a No. 1 or 2 seed is not home field. It's the bye week.
Dungy's long-standing policy underpins his philosophy. When the Colts win on Sunday in November and December, they are given Monday in addition to the standard Tuesday players' day off. This November and December, they have practiced only once or twice on a Monday even after a loss.
After the Colts beat Kansas City in a wild-card game on Jan. 6, Dungy gave the players two days off.
"Your body, week in and week out, is getting worn down and battered. It's a task to get it back for the next game," said defensive end Robert Mathis, one of the best-conditioned Colts. "Rest helps tremendously, because the secret to playing hard is resting hard."
The Colts matched, if not exceeded, Baltimore's energy and intensity.
Wide receiver Brandon Stokley was an illustration of the value of a rested body in 2003. He played only six regular-season games because of injury. Then he had 11 catches for 223 yards and three touchdowns in three playoff games.
Tight end Dallas Clark missed four games this year with a partially torn knee ligament, then came back for a shakedown during the regular-season finale.
"That's vacation. That definitely helped me," Clark said.
Refreshed, he caught nine passes for 103 yards against Kansas City, and then caught a 14-yard fourth-quarter pass Sunday at Baltimore for probably the game's biggest first down. It enabled the Colts to kick the clinching field goal and all but exhaust the clock.
Running backs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes also have benefited from fresh legs. They alternated series during the regular season. They have alternated big plays during the postseason.
Dungy has done more than give his players time off. He has taken them out of pads during practice the past couple of weeks. The boost there is two-fold: the psychological aspect and the elimination of contact during 11-on-11 drills.
"That's big, taking the pads off for practice," defensive tackle Raheem Brock said.
New England matched the Colts last weekend. The Patriots beat rested, top-seeded San Diego on Sunday, but then had to fly back across the country with one fewer day than the Colts to rest and prepare for the AFC Championship Game.
Home teams are 47-25 (.653) in conference championship games since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Being at home and a little better rested assures nothing, but it can't hurt.