Wild Weekends: A Win that was Anything But a Big Easy

They won it, and they won it their way.

The New Orleans Saints completed their improbable championship journey this past Sunday with a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints tied the largest comeback in Super Bowl history by coming back from a 10-0 deficit after one quarter, and did it thanks to a second half that mirrored their second half against the Dolphins in the very same stadium during the regular season. In that game the Saints came back from a 24-3 deficit and scored 36 in the second half; on Sunday, the Saints were down 10-6 at half and scored 25 in the second half. Many believed that the Saints’ losing their unbeaten season and the subsequent “break” they took would come back to bite them; it didn’t turn out to be the case.

The game itself may have been settled on the very first play of the second half. In what I consider one of the gutsiest—possibly the gutsiest—coaching call in Super Bowl history, Sean Payton opted for his Saints to attempt an onside kick to begin the second half. Not only did the Saints catch the Colts off-guard and recovered the onside kick, the drove down the field culminating the whole episode with Pierre Thomas’ 16-yard catch and run for a touchdown. That put the Saints up 13-10 just over three minutes into the second half.

Drew Brees was almost too easy of a winner for this year’s Super Bowl MVP. The unquestioned leader of the Saints on the field, Brees tied Tom Brady’s record for completions in a Super Bowl going 32/39 for 288 yards and two touchdowns—the majority coming in the second half.

While Brees was the hero, Tracy Porter became the King of New Orleans with his 74-yard interception return touchdown with 3:12 to play, sealing the Saints’ victory.

To their credit, the Colts did move the ball down the field quickly and effectively after Porter’s score, but ended up turning the ball over on downs inside the Saints’ 10. It was the final of several instances where the Colts were stopped deep in New Orleans territory during the game.

Peyton Manning ended up joining Kurt Warner and Brett Favre as legendary quarterbacks the Saints defense had their way with.

While Manning’s 31/45, 333 yard, one touchdown, one interception performance may not seem as though the Saints D held Manning much, the fact that Manning came one pass short of tying the Super Bowl record for completions—something Drew Brees ended up tying in the game—and to have only thrown one touchdown means you were held in check.

Manning’s lone touchdown pass was a 19-yard play to Pierre Garcon late in the first quarter; it made the game 10-0 Colts.

Garcon finished with 66 yards on five catches along with the touchdown.

Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush provided a 1-2 punch in the backfield by not always being in the backfield. Thomas finished with 85 total yards (30 rushing, 55 receiving) and a touchdown. Bush ended the day with 63 total yards (25 rushing, 38 receiving).

In the Colts’ backfield, Joseph Addai ended with 77 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

Jeremy Shockey’s two-yard touchdown catch with 5:42 to go not only put the Saints up for good, but provided Shockey himself with a small measure of self-redemption. Two years ago, amidst turmoil between Shockey and the Giants’ organization, he had to watch from a luxury box as his teammates shocked the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Garcon’s touchdown capped a 96-yard drive that tied the Super Bowl record for longest drive.

The story of this game lied with the opposite play of both teams on both sides of the ball. Throughout the first half, the Colts offense was at least able to move the ball and their defense played possibly its best football of the year in a big game. However, in the second half it would be the Saints offense that got jump-started while their D took Manning out of his game quick and never fully let him get it back.

For any bitter Colts fan or football fan who wants to pin the Colts’ sacrificing their unbeaten season as somehow being a cause for their defeat Sunday night I only believe that you need to get over yourself and let that one go. Playing a Super Bowl while unbeaten—in this day—is a kind of pressure that you simply don’t need; the Patriots did look like the greatest team of all time until they got to Phoenix for the Big Game. Not only that, but if losing the unbeaten season really was that big of a factor, the Colts wouldn’t have even made it to Miami in the first place as Baltimore and the Jets were both good enough and hungry enough to take down a team that was reeling; the Colts weren’t that team, hence why they were playing for it all on Sunday.

Years from now, this game may turn out to be a torch passing game. In many ways, the game appeared that way to me as it unfolded Sunday night. It was the Saints, the new kids on the block, taking down the Colts, one of the most dominant teams of the last decade, to become champions of pro football. It was Peyton Manning and not Drew Brees who made the game-clinching mistake as one would expect the younger, inexperienced Brees to make such a mistake considering Manning has already been to a Super Bowl—in the same stadium as Sunday’s. It was Drew Brees and not Peyton Manning who bumped his game up to that necessary next level to boost his team. And it was the Saints, not the Colts, who made the most out of what their opponent gave them. The best example of this was the Colts’ defense coming up with a major stop when the Saints tried four times—starting from the Indy three yard line—and came up short, only to have the Colts quickly need to punt giving the Saints enough time to move down the field and add a field-goal before halftime.

The fact of the matter is that this was probably the most complete Super Bowl in years. All of the “greatest Super Bowl ever” candidates from recent years have had their major flaws: Pats/Giants—SB XLII had one of the slowest and worst first half’s in recent Super Bowl memory, Pats/Panthers—SB XXXVIII was scoreless for the first 28 minutes before having possibly the best 32 minutes in Super Bowl history, Pats/Rams—SB XXXVI was another very slow and boring game until late in the first half, even Titans/Rams—SB XXXIV was a game that the Rams dominated through most of the first three quarters building a 16-0 lead with that game only getting really good as the Titans chipped away at that lead. And while you could say that this year’s game had the same kind of slow start, the game wasn’t scoreless through a full quarter, there were plenty of big plays even without a ton of scoring, and the game was the closest going into the fourth quarter that a Super Bowl has been in five years. You have to remember that even after Porter’s touchdown, the Colts nearly scored and if they had, the game would’ve come down to an onside kick.

The final score in this case will be deceiving. What really happened was an incredibly close, incredibly competitive game—deserving of the top two teams in the league—came down to the wire with the new blood winning it all in a fashion fitting for the end of one decade and the beginning of another.

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