After the Indianapolis Colts all but threw away their chance for an undefeated season - creating a swirl of controversy in the process - they have even less reason to play their starters in the regular-season finale.
Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts' stars will almost certainly see an abbreviated afternoon of action in Sunday's postseason tuneup against the host Buffalo Bills.
Leading 15-10 in the third quarter against the visiting New York Jets last Sunday, the Colts were in good shape to improve to 15-0 and win their 24th straight regular-season game until coach Jim Caldwell replaced Manning with rookie quarterback Curtis Painter.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark and running back Joseph Addai were also removed, and Painter turned the ball over twice as the Jets surged to a 29-15 victory.
Team president Bill Polian had insisted all season that the Colts' lone goal is to win the Super Bowl, and with the top seed in the AFC already secured, they proved it by removing the three-time league MVP and his top weapons from harm's way.
"The perfect season was never an issue with us," Polian said. "We've said it time and time and time again. It's somebody else's issue, but not ours. That was of no concern. Football logic has to come into play, and that logic is it makes no sense to have guys out there with the potential for injuries."
The decision did not sit well with the team's fans, who booed as it became clear the Colts (14-1) would not become the first team to finish unbeaten since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
Manning and several of his teammates also wore grimaces on the sideline during Indianapolis' defeat - the first in Caldwell's short tenure as head coach - but the quarterback publicly supported the decision after the game.
"Until any player in here is the head coach, you follow orders and you follow them with all of your heart," Manning said. "That's what we've done as players. We follow orders."
Besides earning critics, Caldwell's move also affected the AFC playoff race, giving the Jets the inside track on a wild-card berth following their victory. There won't be nearly as much controversy about Manning coming out early against the Bills, who are guaranteed to miss the playoffs for the 10th straight season.
Buffalo (5-10) could be stumbling to the finish line after a 31-3 loss to Atlanta last Sunday as its beleaguered offense failed to improve in quarterback Brian Brohm's first NFL start. Brohm finished 17 of 29 for 146 yards and two interceptions.
"He was put in a tough position," said Bills interim coach Perry Fewell, whose future with the team is uncertain. "He tried to answer the challenge. I think he's got a future with more reps and more work. He has some promise there."
It's unclear if Brohm or Ryan Fitzpatrick will start against the Colts. Fitzpatrick has been recovering from an ankle injury, and he returned to practice Wednesday.
Against the Falcons, wide receiver Terrell Owens became the sixth player in league history to catch 1,000 passes. But even Owens has had a disappointing season for an offense that has started three different quarterbacks while ranking 29th in the NFL in passing and 30th overall.
"I just feel bad because I'm a competitor and I came here to help this team to the playoffs," Owens said. "It's been frustrating. There have been times I just wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. But, you know, that wouldn't be the right thing to do."
Buffalo's defense also sputtered against the Falcons, and the Bills remain last in the league against the run after allowing 157 yards on the ground. Even a promising pass defense, which is tied for second with 26 interceptions, allowed Matt Ryan to throw for three touchdowns without getting picked off.
Rookie safety Jairus Byrd, the team leader with nine interceptions, got the Bills' lone Pro Bowl nod.
Indianapolis has won six straight against the Bills since a 31-6 loss at Buffalo on Jan. 2, 2000.
With another victory, the Colts would finish the regular season unbeaten on the road for the first time since the 1968 team was 7-0 outside of Baltimore. They've never gone 15-1 overall.