Tony Dungy is going to rest his starters, at least most of them, for the bulk of Sunday's meaningless regular-season finale against Tennessee.
Go ahead and complain, gnash your teeth, call your local talk shows and scream to the heavens -- no, not again!! -- but Dungy isn't going to change his mind on this matter.
Nor should he.
"The only thing that will make (fans) feel like it's the right way to go is if we win the Super Bowl,'' Dungy said Tuesday. "We know that going in. Whatever you do, if you win, it's the right thing and you were smart. And if you lose, you did the wrong thing and you weren't very smart. So we're going to do what we think is best. We thought (resting the starters) was best (in 2005 and 2007) and we still think it's best now, and hopefully we win and look smart at the end.''
If the Colts trip over their first-round game at either Denver or San Diego -- and root for Denver, the far better matchup -- Dungy will be dogged by another round of second-guessing, just as he was in '05 and '07. But it says here that 2008 is different, very different, and if they lose, it won't have anything to do with ring rust or any such nonsense.
In 2005, the Colts clinched home field advantage Dec. 11 of that season, then attempted to continue their perfect season Dec. 18 before losing to San Diego. They then rested their starters for games Dec. 24, Jan. 1 and had a bye week before a playoff loss, at home, to Pittsburgh on Jan. 15.
That was 28 days between meaningful football games, and while Dungy still refuses to blame that loss on the team's down time, the ring rust clearly showed. Indy's offense, which had been so dominant throughout that season, didn't awaken until midway through the second half.
By the time the Colts got their act together, it was too late. Nick Harper got tackled by Ben Roethlisberger on his fumble return in the final minute. And Mike Vanderjagt's kick landed in northern Zionsville.
(That was also the year the Dungy family suffered the tragic loss of their son, an event that took an emotional toll on the entire franchise, a toll that cannot be readily understood or quantified.)
In 2007, the Colts clinched the No. 2 seed Dec. 23, then rested their starters for the Dec. 30 game, enjoyed a bye week and then lost at home to San Diego on Jan. 13. That was 24 days between meaningful football games. That day, rust didn't seem to be a major issue. An early Marvin Harrison fumble was an issue. As was the lack of a pass rush, with Dwight Freeney gone from the lineup.
"Did you think all the time off had any impact on those losses?'' Dungy was asked.
He shook his head.
"No, I really don't,'' he said. "It's always great to say, 'Well, momentum,' but what happens the previous week doesn't determine anything in the game to come.
"I just don't buy into that theory. When I played (in Pittsburgh), that's when I got a chance to play and we rested up some of our good players and they carried us to Super Bowl wins. So there's no perfect way to do it, but having guys rested and ready to go usually helps.''
Dungy may be stubborn, but he's got this on his side: This time, the circumstances are unquestionably different than they were in '05 and '07.
Because this time it will only be 17 or 18 days between meaningful games.
Because this time there will be no bye week.
Because this time there will be no home-field advantage and the Colts likely will have to go on the road to reach the Super Bowl in Tampa.
Because after that 3-4 start, the Colts have been on the one-or-done edge for all of those eight weeks.
And because these two teams, the Colts and Titans, may very well be facing each other once again in two weeks time, this time down in Nashville.
Clearly, recent Super Bowl winners have benefited from playing out the season and charging into the postseason with momentum. The Steelers did it in '05. The New York Giants, who smartly challenged the New England Patriots in an otherwise meaningless regular-season finale last year, were empowered by that performance.
But think back to the Colts' Super Bowl season of '06. Where was their momentum? Yes, they played out the season, but they finished December with a 2-3 mark. They had almost no momentum heading into that playoff season, unless you count a ho-hum victory over the Cleo Lemon-led Dolphins a major confidence builder.
Clearly, the players want to play. That's in their DNA. They're creatures of habit.
Jeff Saturday was asked, "Do you want to rest Sunday?"
"Naaaah,'' he said quickly. "I'm ready to play, stay sharp, go into the playoffs winning and beating a good team like Tennessee.''
I followed up. "You think Tony will take your advice?''
"No, I think coach Dungy is coach Dungy, and he'll decide whatever he wants to do,'' Saturday said.
Coach Dungy has decided.
Like it or not.