By Simon Evans
MIAMI (Reuters) - Indianapolis President Bill Polian is surprised by the hostile reaction from his team's fans after the Colts withdrew key starters in Sunday's defeat to the New York Jets.
Colts fans' hopes of an unbeaten 'perfect season' were dashed with a 29-15 defeat in the 15th game after coach Jim Caldwell took out quarterback Peyton Manning and other regulars in the third quarter.
The Jets scored 19 consecutive points after the Colts, already assured of home advantage in the playoffs, had taken a 15-10 lead before Caldwell's changes.
Indianapolis fans booed at the end of the game and their protests have continued on radio shows and the Internet.
The Miami Dolphins in 1972 are the only team to win all their games in the regular and post-season.
Polian told the NFL Network that he was surprised at the reaction given he had been clear in stating that the preference was to have a fit and healthy team for the playoffs.
"I had thought we had made it very plain that 16-0 was not a goal for us. Apparently, I and others in the organization didn't do as good a job of that as we should have," he said.
"What we've said -- it seems repeatedly, since Halloween almost -- is that 16-0, we did not feel like was a historic achievement.
"What was important to us ... after we had wrapped-up the home field advantage was to set two records -- one for the most consecutive regular season games won. We were tied with New England (on 21 wins) and we now hold that record ourselves.
Polian said that after achieving those two goals the team felt prudence was the best policy.
"We've been very public, and very open with that. I'm a little surprised that people didn't register that."
The Colts chief added he was not worried about a loss of morale within the team.
"Not at all. As a matter of fact, I'm very proud of them. What they're upset about is losing the game, not the ability to play in the game. They all wanted to win the game, because we want to win every game we play," he said.
The absence of the outstanding Manning was the most critical factor in the loss to the Jets, with rookie quarterback Curtis Painter struggling to settle.
The Colts are without their main back-up quarterback Jim Sorgi, who is on injured reserve with a shoulder problem, and Polian said that had forced the decision to protect Manning.
"(After that) it was evident to coach and myself that we had to be very careful with Peyton, because there was no one out there we could bring in who could handle the load of backup quarterback.
"Curtis Painter is a rookie, and we were in a situation where we had to be very careful with him. We felt like that was the prudent decision to make," he said.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)