INDIANAPOLIS — Colts defensive end Robert Mathis couldn’t care less about the No. 1 draft pick. All he wants is another win.
Some of Indianapolis’ die-hard fans are urging the team’s brain trust to take a different tack, benching starters and losing Sunday’s season finale at Jacksonville so it can get the top pick.
“It’s better not to respond to that at all,” Mathis said when asked about the fans’ plea. “We play to win.”
The stakes are high.
Since moving to Indianapolis in 1984, only the 1991 Colts (1-15) produced fewer than three wins.
The Colts (2-13) have never finished with a losing record in AFC South play, and the last time anybody beat the Colts twice in the same season was 2007 when San Diego won at home in the regular season and in Indianapolis in the second round of the playoffs.
A victory over the Jags (4-11) would keep all of those streaks intact and allow the Colts to take a three-game winning string into next season, something they haven’t done since the 2006 Super Bowl-winning run.
The message coming from the top is simple: Keep on winning.
“We’re not going after anything but a win n Jacksonville, look at the last half century of SupBowl winners n c how many had 1st pick,” Jim Irsay wrote on Twitter late Tuesday night.
Fans have a different view.
A win, coupled with a loss by St. Louis (2-13), would drop the Colts from the No. 1 overall slot down to No. 2, and likely out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Most expect the Stanford quarterback to go in that top slot, whether the Colts or Rams have the pick or trade it.
The possibility of losing the No. 1 pick didn’t even seem plausible three weeks ago when the Colts were still winless. Two wins in five days, over division rivals Tennessee and Houston, and an extended break after last Thursday’s win have suddenly created doubts.
It’s not the first time the Colts have faced such a predicament. After going 0-10 in 1997, Indy won three of its next five, then needed a loss at Minnesota in the season finale to secure the No. 1 pick. It worked out with the selection of Peyton Manning, and the die-hards believe it would all work the same way again this year.
The Jags have a hand to play in this, too.
With Maurice Jones-Drew a near lock to win the league’s rushing title and an interim coach running the team, a Jags loss would not just help their draft position but could also prevent the Colts from taking another franchise quarterback they’d have to face twice a year for more than a decade.
“That’s not a part of my thinking at all,” Jaguars interim coach Mel Tucker said.
Indy’s players and coaches are saying the same thing.
Still, Colts fans point to 2009 when the team benched most of its key players early in the second half of Game 15, throwing away a chance at a perfect season. In the regular-season finale, most of the starters were yanked early at Buffalo. Back then, Bill Polian, now the team’s vice chairman, said the perfect season was not a goal but winning the Super Bowl was.
The Colts also lost to New Orleans in the title game.
Now, with seemingly nothing to gain and everything to lose, those who covet the No. 1 pick argue Indy should do the same thing.
Don’t count on it.
“In this locker room, everyone wants to be in there,” said Curtis Painter, who replaced Manning against the Jets in 2009. “Back then, I think the guys wanted to play then, too. Every guy wants to play and there’s certainly no difference this year.”
The Colts practiced Wednesday without starting quarterback Dan Orlovsky after his wife delivered triplets. That temporarily put Curtis Painter back in the charge of the starting offense, a tradeoff some Colts fans are willing to make given the circumstances. To their dismay, coach Jim Caldwell said Orlovsky, who has won two straight, should return to practice Thursday and should play Sunday.