Commentary: Resting starters always subject to second-guessing

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by Jim Henderson / WWL-TV Sports Director

wwltv.com

Posted on January 4, 2010 at 7:10 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 5 at 4:41 PM

NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Sports interest survives and thrives on the second guess.  No one gets second guessed more than NFL head coaches and none of them gets second guessed more at any time of the year than now.

The beauty of the second guess is that you can never be wrong.  Look at what poor Jim Caldwell's going through in Indianapolis.  Since he pulled Peyton Manning last week with a lead on the Jets, the Colts have lost their last two regular season games as they head into the playoffs as the top seed in the AFC.  Lose in the playoffs and he'll be flayed by second-guessers saying he ruined the team's momentum.  

Win the Super Bowl and he'll still be criticized by second guessers who will say that if he'd played Manning the last two games he could have had a Super Bowl and a perfect season.

Caldwell's response to his critics: "my job is to win championships, not to have an unbeaten regular season."

Sean Payton's predicament heading into yesterday was similar.  His job is to win championships and if a three-game losing streak to end the season while the team's most integral players regain or retain their health is the price, he says it's no price at all in his judgment.

Look at it this way: what if the Saints had played their starters yesterday to regain the supposed momentum for the play-offs and had still lost?  Then this team's confidence heading into the playoffs would certainly be at rock bottom while those who might have healed are placed in jeopardy along with those who weren't hurt and might now be because of their exposure to injury in a meaningless game?

And that's what Commissioner Roger Goodell would mandate in his half-baked idea to reward playoff teams with draft choices for playing their starters in late season games that are of no consequence to them.

For what?  To appease fantasy-league players, odds-makers whose betting line might lose some of its integrity, whiney owners and coaches of teams that might need the help of play-off bound teams to enhance their own playoff chances that they couldn't enhance on their own?

"Tell you what, Saints.  You play Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas, and Jeremy Shockey and we'll give you an additional seventh round draft pick."

If I'm Sean Payton, I take the pick and have Brees hand the ball off 30 times to Kyle Eckel.

Would Goodell have to legislate how many times Brees would have to throw the ball and to whom to insure the integrity of the game?  The Saints' leading receiver yesterday was Darnell Dinkins with five catches - five times the number of balls he had caught all season and one more catch than regulars Meachem, Henderson, and Colston combined for.

It didn't look like Meachem, Henderson, and Colston particularly wanted to be out there and when Robert Meachem was laid out on the goal-line like a snow angel in the third quarter of a one-sided game, you could certainly understand why.

If the lord helps those who help themselves, the lord of the NFL should do the same.  And the reward of a draft choice should not be the punishment for success.

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