After his typical formal noon news conference yesterday, Andy Reid stood in the hallway outside the auditorium and talked for a few minutes about his approach to Sunday's game at Dallas.

Would he - Reid was asked - hold back against the Cowboys, since the Eagles are in the playoffs anyway and face the very real possibility of having to play Dallas again six or seven days later?

"In this game," Reid said, "we play to win the game."

He does, but Jim Caldwell doesn't. Or maybe it's Bill Polian who doesn't. And that's just lame.

With the Indianapolis Colts on the doorstep of history, Caldwell pulled up. He was the anti-Belichick. He thumbed his nose at the idea of going undefeated, which was bad enough, but he could've lost his team in the process. Players want to win. And the Colts players, they wanted to pursue perfection. Sixteen weeks into it, that's what this season has become about for them.

And Caldwell, or maybe it was the team president, said no. The Colts already had the No. 1 seed in the AFC secured, so why risk an injury? That was the Colts' stance.

With a five-point lead over the New York Jets, Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning, among others, and put in some quarterback you've never heard of, and the Jets reeled off 19 straight points to win the game.

The Colts players said all the right things after the game, deferring to The Decision - and that's what it's being called in Indianapolis, capital T and capital D - of their coach. That is their nature. It's a tight group with a core that has been together for a while, and they had been down this road before.

But in 2005, when the Colts were 13-0, their undefeated streak ended because San Diego was better that day, not because Tony Dungy decided to take Manning out of the game for fear he'd get hurt. And in 2005, those Colts were thoroughly upset that they lost. They wanted to be the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to go undefeated.

These Colts surely wanted that, too. And there was more fruit to grab. Not only could they have become the second team to go 16-0 in the regular season, they could've become the first to finish 19-0. They could've out-Belichicked Belichick, and who affiliated with Indianapolis wouldn't revel in that?

Caldwell deemed the loss "disappointing," but added, "The most important season is the one coming up."

That's true, but every team wants to be peaking going into the playoffs. How can you peak when your starters are on the bench? How can you peak when your best players, despite what they might say publicly, have to be seething at not going for history?

Teams don't have magical on-off switches, even a team as mechanically sound as Indianapolis. There is a very big mental side to football. If the players' heads aren't right, the Colts won't reach their ultimate goal, which is to win the Super Bowl.

And even if they do, will the players ever really forgive Caldwell? If they win the Super Bowl and finish 18-1, can they ever forget that they were right there, primed to beat the Jets? At 19-0, they would be immortal. They would be special. They would be alone in history.

Sure, 18-1 with another Lombardi Trophy wouldn't be bad, either - just ask the Eagles - and it'd be much better than the Patriots' version of 18-1 that ended without a Lombardi Trophy. But how often do you have a chance to make history? You can't make it if you don't try.

It's like Reid said. In this game, you play to win. If you don't, why play at all?

Contact columnist Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.