01/01/2014 08:01 AM
Andy Reid's Kansas City Chiefs enter the playoffs coming off a virtual Week 17 bye when the coach rested 20 of 22 starters in the regular-season finale.
Few would argue Reid's wisdom in protecting banged-up playmakers such as pass-rushing dynamo Tamba Hali (sore knee) and receiver Dwayne Bowe, who is recovering from a concussion. Quarterback Alex Smith, multi-purpose back Jamaal Charles and defensive stalwarts Derrick Johnson and Dontari Poe were also in street clothes Sunday.
Locked into the AFC's fifth playoff seed before kickoff, it seemed the Chiefs (11-5) had nothing at stake against the desperate San Diego Chargers. But did Kansas City possibly lose a touch of focus, or maybe some momentum? Will that day of rest raise its ugly head in some early form of rust during this Saturday's wild-card visit with Andrew Luck and the suddenly surging Indianapolis Colts (11-5)?
Though the junior varsity Chiefs pushed the Chargers into overtime before falling 27-24, Reid's approach will be judged on how his team responds against a Colts squad that whipped the Chiefs 23-7 on Dec. 22 in Kansas City.
Not everyone would have followed Reid's plan.
Old school New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin had nothing to gain at the end of the regular season in 2007 but opted to play his starters against the undefeated New England Patriots. Coughlin's team lost a 38-35 battle that day but seemed to gain empowering confidence against a New England squad that overwhelmed so many foes on its way to the NFL's only 16-0 regular season.
The Giants, 10-6 that year, stunned the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII five weeks later.
"I remember Tom walks into our meeting — he's got his old Tom Coughlin way, going through paperwork — and he's like, 'Oh yeah, guys, we're playing. We're trying to win this game,' " former Giants receiver Amani Toomer recalled Tuesday. "I just remember everybody got charged up because we felt we could beat that Patriots team.
"Our team gained a lot playing on that stage. That propelled us to the Super Bowl title."
The Giants won all their playoff games on the road that postseason, first vanquishing the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. New York may not have been rested but, unlike the Bucs, the Giants weren't rusty, either.
"The Bucs had rested their guys a couple of weeks," says Toomer, now a SiriusXM NFL Radio analyst. "They weren't crisp and we were. ... The playoffs are so close with teams so evenly matched, you can't overcome those type of things.
"You start slow, you give up a turnover — that can be the difference in a playoff game."
NFL postseason history is littered with well-rested backfires.
Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy sat quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the 2011 regular-season finale after the team had already secured the NFC's No.1 seed on its way to a franchise-best 15-1 record.
But Rodgers hadn't played for three weeks before facing the Giants in that season's divisional round. He was intercepted that day (he threw only six other picks during that MVP season), his receivers dropped six passes and Green Bay committed three more turnovers in a stunning 37-20 loss at Lambeau Field.
The Giants went on to win the Super Bowl that season, too.
"It's a very slippery slope. I just think you want to play it all out," Toomer said. "I've never been an advocate of resting. Football players are creatures of habit. We want to keep on playing."
Reid pushed plenty of the right buttons in 14 years with the Philadelphia Eagles, reaching five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl. Now he's guided Kansas City back to postseason one year after a 2-14 debacle.
But Reid is still chasing his first Lombardi Trophy as a head coach. He'll have to hope a fresh band of Chiefs can make progress toward that goal in Indianapolis against a team that also had little to play for down the stretch but won its final three games decisively with the starters playing significant snaps.
"The Colts are going to win," said Toomer. "Andy Reid's doing a hell of a job. But the physical nature of the Colts — they've knocked down every good team this year — the Broncos, Chiefs, Seahawks. This is a very scary team, especially playing at home."
Toomer doesn't believe in the Chiefs — rested or restless — who created many doubters by losing five of their final seven games.
"How poorly they've played since their 9-0 start, they're not the same team they were earlier this year," Toomer said. "Their sacks are down, exposing their defense. ... Without their pass rushers, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, playing 100%, they're just an average team."