Key discussion, bold decision and patient defense propel Saints
A halftime meeting between Sean Payton and Gregg Williams paid big dividends
Jonathan Casillas got Thomas Morstead's onside kick, gave the Saints momentum
Tracy Porter's patience and film study helped in his interception TD return
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Gregg Williams is a man who prides himself on being aggressive. The Saints defensive coordinator is notorious for his unit's all-out assaults on quarterbacks. His desire for New Orleans to get a few "remember-me" shots on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was well-documented.
So how did Williams react at halftime when head coach Sean Payton said he wanted to keep the defense off the field by starting the second half with a surprise onside kick?
"Go for it," Williams said. "This is how you win championships."
The risky move, which worked, could have been seen as a sign of disrespect for Williams' defense, which to that point had limited the Colts offense to 10 points on four possessions. But Payton knew his offense needed a jolt, so he directed placekicker Thomas Morstead to kick it short and to the left. The play took the Colts by surprise, with the ball bouncing off up man Hank Baskett and ending up in the arms of Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas after a long scrum.
"We've seen the onside kick all week and guys executed it well," Payton said. "When you do something like that, you just put it on the players and they were able to execute. It turned out to be a big change of possession."
The offense capitalized on the good field position, marching 58 yards in six plays. Quarterback Drew Brees was 5-for-5 on the drive, which culminated with a 16-yard TD catch and run by Pierre Thomas.
"I can't say we foresaw that coming because we didn't," center Jeff Saturday said of the onside kick. "But we are a mature enough group to overcome that."
The Colts, indeed, responded with a statement drive of their own. Manning methodically picked apart the Saints defense, driving 76 yards in 10 plays, capped by Joseph Addai's 5-yard TD run. It gave the Colts a lead which they'd hold until the fourth quarter.
For Williams, it was a difficult game to manage because of his penchant for being more aggressive with his defensive play-calling. But Williams knew what he was getting himself into. After the NFC Championship Game, he and Payton talked to each other about the importance of the offense and defense being on the same page for the Super Bowl.
"We knew the best way to beat them was to use the clock," Williams said. "We didn't want to change our approach, but that was what it took to get it done."
Williams got a reminder about the importance of being patient against the Colts in a surprise phone call from an old friend hours before the game.
"I want to take a moment to thank Jeff Fisher," Williams said. Fisher was the head coach when Williams was the defensive coordinator for the Titans from 1997-2000. "He called me before the game and said you can't be aggressive against Peyton. He knew it'd be tough for me to be patient because that's not my style."
The patience, obviously, paid off when cornerback Tracy Porter stepped in front of a Manning pass and returned it 74 yards to seal the win for the Saints. It was an aggressive decision by the Saints corner, but it was calculated.
"We had eye contact before that play, and we both could tell what was coming because they had run it before," Williams said. "Actually, I thought I knew the route but Tracy did know the route and he made a play."
The Colts, who won it all here in Super Bowl XLI, knew they were beaten by the better team and accepted defeat.
"Bottom line, those guys made the plays -- the onside kick, the interception, the return -- and we didn't," Saturday said. "They flat out outplayed us."
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