A decision made last week was put in motion with 5 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the third quarter Sunday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It was roundly booed as the Indianapolis Colts’ first regular-season loss in 14 months — a 29-15 setback to the New York Jets — became a reality.
It was apparent to the sellout crowd of 67,222 that it was the beginning of the end for so much that had transpired before. They didn’t much care for the manner in which it unfolded, primarily with quarterback Peyton Manning and other high-profile offensive players standing harmlessly on the sideline.
“We felt that going into the third quarter, with the lead, that we’d start giving some guys a little break in the action,” coach Jim Caldwell said after a 15-10 Colts’ third-quarter lead with Manning at the controls disintegrated into a loss with rookie quarterback Curtis Painter and several other backups on the field and under siege.
“The most important thing for us is to make certain we’re operating on all cylinders come the playoffs,” Caldwell said. “That’s the key. That’s our focus.”
The loss to the Jets, who now have full control of their own playoff fate:
Was the Colts’ first of the season after a 14-0 start. The 1972 Miami Dolphins’ place in history as the NFL’s only unbeaten team from start to finish remains safe.
Ended the Colts’ 23-game regular-season winning streak, a league-record run that began following a loss at Tennessee on Oct. 27, 2008.
Ended a club-record 13-game home winning streak.
Reinforced the notion that entering the playoffs as healthy as possible for a run at Super Bowl XLIV, rather than making a run at a 16-0 regular season, was foremost in the Colts’ minds.
The Colts entered the game without five starters who were nursing injuries. Starting safety Melvin Bullitt was in uniform but did not play. Running back Joseph Addai played only one series and part of a second before leaving with an undisclosed and, apparently, minor injury.
Health was, and is, an issue.
The pursuit of a perfect season, insisted team president Bill Polian, never was.