The Chiefs-Colts contest, on the first weekend of the postseason playoffs, was one of the most thrilling, spectacular football games I’ve ever seen. Somehow, some way, with bursts of luck and feats of extraordinary athleticism, the Colts rallied from a 28-point deficit and staged a comeback that will go into the history books, winning 45 to 44.
But it was also one of the most discomfiting football games I’ve ever seen, a blunt reminder of how much pain we fans endorse in the service of our pleasure. All in all five players for the Chiefs went down, exiting before the end of the fourth quarter, and the team’s defeat was inextricable from its physical devastation. In the N.F.L., the spoils often go to the squad that needs the fewest X-rays, crutches, sutures and surgeries.
It has been a sickening season that way. At least eight of the league’s 32 teams were without their first-string quarterbacks before October was over. Some of the quarterbacks who went the distance seemed to do so mainly because their teams’ entire architecture had been designed around their protection. The Denver Broncos, a favorite to go to the Super Bowl, did many things right, but none righter than treating Peyton Manning as if he were a Fabergé egg.