Payton's bold gambles, Peyton's biggest loss, more Snap Judgments
Drew Brees might've had the best finishing kick in Super Bowl history
The Saints fed off Sean Payton's bold moves -- even the ones that didn't work
With the loss, the Colts have ceded the 'best of the decade' honor to the Pats
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from Super Bowl XLIV at Sun Life Stadium, where the long-suffering Saints went marching into Super Bowl history with a thrilling 31-17 come-from-behind upset win over a Colts team that was widely expected to have its way with New Orleans. Who Dat indeed ...
Another year, another superb Super Bowl. Did you ever think we'd say that after the first three decades-plus of the game's 44-year history? The first-time Super Bowl-qualifying Saints, dazed and down 10-0 in the first quarter, got off the mat in historic fashion, beating a Colts team that had owned the fourth quarter all season.
But Indy's seven fourth-quarter comeback wins, and Peyton Manning's league-leading fourth-quarter passer rating didn't mean a thing when the pressure built in this Super Bowl. It was the Colts and Manning who wilted, and the Saints who thrived, with New Orleans scoring 31 of the final 38 points after that early double-digit deficit.
It's got to hurt a little more for Colts fans that Saints hero Tracy Porter is a former Indiana University cornerback. For the second game in a row, Porter saved the Saints with a late-game interception. Porter picked Brett Favre late in regulation in the NFC title game; and Sunday night, he picked off Manning, returning the game's only turnover 74 yards for a title-clinching touchdown with 3:12 remaining.
He didn't start all that strongly, but nobody ever played a better final three quarters in a Super Bowl than Saints quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees. After completing just three of his first seven passes for 27 yards in the first quarter, Brees was 29 of 32 from there on -- including a spike to kill the clock late in the first half and Reggie Bush drop in the second half.
That's a mind-numbing display of excellence in the biggest game of his nine-year NFL career. Brees finished 32 of 39 overall, for 288 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 114.5 passer rating. He tied Tom Brady's 2004 record of 32 Super Bowl completions, and almost singlehandedly kept the Saints in the game when their running game was an afterthought.
What a well-played game that was. Manning's pick was the only turnover all night, and the penalties were few and far between. It wasn't quite the shootout we all expected, but it was crisp, pure football, for the most part. And the Saints winning was no fluke. No David Tyree-type catch led to this upset. New Orleans was the better team, and outplayed the Colts entirely after the first quarter.
The Saints' comeback from an early 10-0 hole matched Washington's rally against Denver in 1988 for the largest comeback from a first-quarter deficit in Super Bowl history.
Give him this: Sean Payton has some guts. Going for it on 4th-and-1 from the 1, down 10-3 in the second quarter? Calling for the first non-fourth quarter onside kick in Super Bowl history, to open the third quarter, even though your team was only trailing 10-6? The Saints head coach isn't afraid to make the risky call, and even though he batted .500 with those two huge decisions against the Colts -- with New Orleans failing on the 4th down and recovering the onside kick to start a go-ahead touchdown drive -- I like the way he's unafraid to roll the dice. Even in the biggest of the big games.
I wrote on Friday about how Matt Stover's lack of length on field goals might hurt the Colts late in the game, and sure enough, Stover's miss from 51 yards in the fourth quarter was a big break for New Orleans. To review, Stover was 6 of 6 on field goals before his miss, but with a long of only 44 yards.
Stover, 42, became the oldest player in Super Bowl history. But he hasn't made a field goal of longer than 49 yards since 2006, when he was still a Baltimore Raven. Stover was a fine replacement this season for the injured Adam Vinatieri -- the greatest clutch kicker in NFL playoff history -- but with Indy trying to build on a 17-16 lead, those were big points the Colts missed out on.
You can't say Dwight Freeney made little impact, because he had that exquisite one-handed sack of Brees in the second quarter -- the only Colts sack in the opening three quarters. But you can't say Freeney was his usual disruptive self with that well-chronicled ankle injury. He looked strong early on, but he seemed to wear down, and had his ankle re-taped twice in the second half. The sack was his only tackle of the game.
All in all, Brees had a clean pocket to work with most of the night, and he responded with a Super Bowl-record 32 completions. Though many thought defensive lineman Raheem Brock would step up and fill in admirably for Freeney, he also finished with just one tackle.
This just put an end to any remaining debate about the team of the decade in the NFL. It's New England. The Colts had a case to make with a win tonight, given their 10 years of excellence in the regular season. But one Super Bowl win in the 2000s merely makes them the Atlanta Braves of the NFL.
All you folks who wrote and talked about Indy being crowned a dynasty with a win over the Saints, don't you feel a little silly? You should. That's why you can't jump the gun on the dynasty spiel. You just have to let it happen, and when it does, everybody knows what a real dynasty looks like.
How clutch was kicker Garrett Hartley in the biggest game of his nascent NFL career? Hartley hit a pair of long field goals (46, 44 yards) for all the Saints' first-half points. (Punter Thomas Morstead gets credit for the onside kick.) In the third quarter, Hartley added a 47-yard field goal, to become the first kicker in Super Bowl history to convert from longer than 40 yards three times in the same game.
Stover, in turn, made a 36-yarder in the first quarter but was totally upstaged by Hartley, who's all of 23.
A record four MVP trophies are great, but that was the most crushing loss of Manning's 12-year NFL career. It's silly to try to sum up the legacy question with Manning having so many years left to play, but losing this one is going to be a failure that re-starts talk of him not being his best once the NFL's postseason starts.
Weird, weird Super Bowl in the first half. Colts dominated the first quarter, rolling up 10 points and 154 yards on a pair of 11-play drives. Indy had more points in the first quarter (10) than the Saints ran offensive plays (nine).
Then the Saints answered, dominating the second quarter almost as completely as Indy did in the first. New Orleans had 143 yards of their 179 total first-half yards in the second quarter, and scored on those Hartley field goals of 46 and 44 yards. The Colts had just 15 yards in the second quarter, on six plays. Indy held the ball just 2:34 in the quarter, compared to 12:26 for the Saints.
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