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Archive for Thursday, December 27, 2007

Commentary: Colts should play it straight - to a point

December 27, 2007

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— The Colts aren't as scary with Jim Sorgi at quarterback.

I believe the Tennessee Titans, the Cleveland Browns and Colts coach Tony Dungy can agree on that.

But will the playoff fate of the Titans and Browns truly rest in Sorgi's hands? That's not quite as easy a call. Should it rest in his hands? That's trickier yet.

"It's been awhile since I actually played extensively against a team that's playing for something," Sorgi said.

Dungy's decision on Sorgi's playing time - and that of other Colts' back-ups - is a sensitive one. Two teams' playoff hopes hang in the balance, and neither is the one Dungy coaches.

If the Titans (9-6) beat the Colts (13-2) Sunday night in the regular-season finale at the RCA Dome, the Titans will make the playoffs as an AFC wild-card team. If the Colts win, the Browns (9-6) will be in instead. The outcome will not affect the Colts' status as the AFC's No. 2 seed with a first-round bye.

"I have gotten a lot of suggestions, but I don't know exactly what we're going to do other than we are going to play to win," Dungy said. "We're going to try to win the ballgame and we are going to play everyone."

Dungy's history suggests he'll play many of his key position players only a series or two. Titans coach Jeff Fisher would endorse that strategy.

I'd like to see Dungy use his regular units as long as the game is in the balance. It would keep the Colts sharp. It would force the Titans to earn anything they get. It would give this game, and the outcome riding on it, more legitimacy.

The Colts are not required to play their stars. Nor should they be. It's not their fault the Titans and Browns failed to end this playoff race earlier. I know Dungy would draw extensive criticism if Manning were to play into the third quarter and end up injured. But, Manning could get hurt on the opening play, too, and you know he's going to start.

In some cases, Dungy will have little choice but to stick with a similar crew throughout the game. There were at least five back-up defensive players on the field during most of the Houston game.

"We would like to do what we did last week, which is play a little better than the previous week, win the ballgame and get a lot of people in," Dungy said.

Manning has found a passing groove, which I'd be hesitant to disrupt by extended pine time.

Most people expect Sorgi early. In an unusual scene, Sorgi was surrounded by reporters during the open interview time Wednesday. He usually enters and exits the locker room without being stopped.

Sorgi's father called him from his home in Fraser, Mich., and played him several voicemail messages of friends who are fans of the Browns.

"They're saying they need me to play well," Sorgi said.

Dungy went with the tactic of resting players in 2005, and it seemed to backfire. The Colts lost at Seattle and then barely beat Arizona in the season finale. After the bye week, they were upset at home by the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Even if Dungy wants to rest key players early, he can only go so far. Most of the offensive line will have to remain in, and it's slim pickings at receiver and defensive line, too.

The Colts have a shot at a 14-2 regular-season mark, which would tie their best under Dungy.

"The goal is to win the game," Manning said. "To say they're going to want it more than us, I disagree with that. Our goal is to win, and that's what we're preparing to do."

If Manning has any say, Sorgi won't determine who wins, loses, goes to the postseason or goes home. It'll already be set by the time Manning sits.

That would be a win-win scenario for the Colts, and very popular in Cleveland.

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