Super Bowl XLIV Recap

There is no Pro Bowl next week. They played it last week. Super Bowl XLIV (44) was the only thing separating leatherheads from a 7 month (213 day) offseason.

There is no time for sobbing. The Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints played for the right to be the 2009-210 National Football League Champions.

For those who want a discussion of the commercials, find another blog. Danica Patrick is stunning. That concludes the commercials. My annual Super Bowl party is not for commercial or halftime watchers. It is for people that actually watch the game. This football blog is about football.

Let’s get to it.

The Saints won the toss, and both teams were expected to light up the scoreboard like pinball machines, with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees firing at will.

Coaches Jim Caldwell and Sean Payton are both fairly stoic, but beneath their expressionless faces are different coaching styles. Caldwell is straight out of the Tony Dungy mode, which means playing fairly conservatively in key situations. Playing “not to lose” is often criticized, but this is unfair. Another unfair criticism of Caldwell is that he was handed the keys to a kingdom and merely failed to mess it up. You don’t get to a Super Bowl without being a good coach. Caldwell has nothing to prove. As for Payton, he is from the Bill Parcells coaching tree, which means a riverboat gambler mentality.

The Saints won the toss. In a game where punters were expected to stay on the sidelines and get a paycheck for nothing, the Saints went 3 and out and punted. The Colts took over at their own 27, and Manning went right to work. A pass to Dallas Clark went for 18 yards. On 3rd and 4, Manning hit Clark for 7 yards. On 3rd and 7, Manning hit Collie for 14 yards to the Saints 25. As wella s Manning was passing, the Saints were kept off balance by hard and successful running by Joseph Addai. The Colts finished last in the league in rushing, and the balanced attack was surprising. After 11 plays and 6 minutes, the drive stalled. Matt Stover kicked a 38 yard field goal as the Colts led 3-0.

The Saints picked up one first down on their next series, but punted again. The Colts took over at their own 4 yard line. Manning showed why he is the only 4 time MVP in NFL history at this point, with a ton of help from Addai. He found Brown for 11 yards, and Addai ran for gains of 16 and 11 yards. On 3rd and 1, Addai ripped off a 26 yard gain to the Saints 23. On 3rd and 6 from the 19, Manning fired to Pierre Garcon, who caught the ball in stride for the score. With half a minute left in the first quarter, the Colts led 10-0. The Colts had the ball for 10 1/2 minutes in the first quarter. In the second quarter the game completely changed.

Both of these teams were using kickers that had replaced legends. John Carney was on the bench as Garrett Hartley had the glory of winning the NFC Title Game a couple weeks earlier. Hartline was the kicker for this game. The Colts had 4 time Super Bowl winner Adam Vinatieri on the bench. Despite winning 2 Super Bowls on the final play and making other clutch kicks, he was injured earlier this year and replaced with 42 year old Matt Stover.  The Colts went with Stover for this game. Kicking would loom large later on.

This was a game with virtually no penalties, only one sack, and only one turnover. Yet the rare times these occurrences happened in this very clean and well played game, the drama was exponential.

In the second quarter, the Saints settled down. Starting at their own 11, Brees found Colston for 12 yards. An unnecessary roughness call on the Colts had the Saints at midfield. Brees hit Pierre Thomas for 9 more and Colston for another 10. On 3rd and 3 from the 22, Brees was hunted down by Dwight Freeney. Freeney had a bad ankle, and some thought he might not play. This was for the Super Bowl, and he played. He grabbed Brees by the jersey and threw him to the ground with one hand. The only sack of the game forced the Saints to settle for a long field goal attempt by Hartley.  From 46 yards out, Hartley connected, and after 11 plays and 6 minutes, the Saints were within 10-3.

The Colts picked up 9 yards on first down with a Manning pass, but the effective Addai lost 3 yards on a 2nd and 1 run. A well thrown pass on 3rd and 4 was dropped by Austin Collie, as the Colts punted for the first time.  The Saints took over at their own 28.

On 3rd and 3, Brees hit Colston for 13 yards. On 3rd and 2 from the Indy 44, Brees hit Moore for 21 yards. Sean Payton then went into his bag of tricks, and a gadget play involving Devry Henderson blew up and lost 7 yards. On 2nd and 17 from the 30, Brees went deep to Colston for 27 yards to set up 1st and goal at the Indy 3. After a false start, Pierre Thomas ran 7 yards to set up 3rd and goal from the 1 at the 2 minute warning. Bell tried to run it in and got hit backwards, and the Colts took a timeout. On 4th and goal from outside the 1, Payton gambled again. Pierre Thomas got blasted by Gary Brackett and the Colts had the goal line stand. 6 minutes produced no points, and the Colts still led 10-3.

Although the Colts were 99 yards away, Manning had already led a 96 yard drive. Yet with 1:49 left in the half, Caldwell took no chances. Hart picked up 4 and Addai added 5 more. Despite running well, Addai did not get the next carry. On 3rd and 1 from the 10, Hart was stopped for no gain. After a less than stellar punt, the Saints took over at their own 48 with 35 seconds left in the half. Brees hit Henderson for 19 yards. With 5 seconds left in the half, Hartley was brought in for a 44 yard field goal. Hartley was good again, validating Payton’s earlier gamble at the goal line. They got the kick anyway, as the Colts led 10-6 at halftime. From a risk taking standpoint, Payton was just getting warmed up.

The time of possession had totally shifted, as the Saints held the ball for a staggering 12 1/2 minutes in the second quarter. The Saints ran over 20 plays to only 6 for the Colts, the last 3 of them handoffs at the end. Despite leading 10-6, the Colts defense were grateful for the extra long halftime show. They had to be tired. The Colts were lucky to be receiving the second half kickoff. If Manning could do his magic, the Colts would lead 13-6 or even 17-6. Manning never got the chance.

Sean Payton called for an onsides kick to start the second half. It was the first time an onsides kick had ever been called in a Super Bowl before the fourth quarter. Payton was rewarded for his balls of steel move as the kick bounced off Indy’s Hank Baskett’s helmet and led to a scrum that took over 2 minutes to unpile. Had it failed the Colts would have had the short field. Yet the Saints had the ball, as a stunned Colts defense had to go back on the field again. From the Saints 42, Brees quickly got it done. He hit Thomas for 12 yards and Henderson for 9 more. From the Colts 16, Brees hit Colston for the touchdown as the Saints led 13-10.

Despite not being in the game for what seemed like forever, Manning turned the offensive ignition right back on from the Colts 24. Short passes to Clark and Addai followed by an 11 yard Addai run had the Colts at their own 47. On 3rd and 4 from the Saints 47, Manning went deep to Clark for 27 yards to the Saints 20. On 3rd and 5, Manning hit Clark for 11 yards. From the 4, Addai finished the 10 play, 5 1/2 minute drive as Colts retook the lead 17-13 with 6 minutes left in the third quarter.

A strong kickoff return by Roby had the Saints at their own 34. A 13 yard pass from Brees to Reggie Bush had the Saints at the Colts 48. Brees hit Henderson for 12 yards to the 36. A 3rd and 7 pass to Jeremy Shockey only picked up 4 yards, so on 4th and 3 from the 29, Hartley was brought in again. From 47 yards out, Hartley nailed his third field goal. He became the first kicker in NFL history to make 3 field goals all at least 44 yards long. The Saints were within 17-16 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter.

There were two contradictory ways of looking at this game at this point. On the one hand, the Colts were scoring touchdowns while the Saints were settling for field goals. On the other hand, the Saints were winning the time of possession battle handily, putting more pressure on the Colts defense. While both quarterbacks were putting on passing clinics, Manning was throwing many slant passes. Tempting fate for too long is a dangerous thing to do.

The Colts took over at their own 11. Manning quickly hit Collie for 9 yards. On the first play of the fourth quarter, from the 29, Manning hit Garcon for 17 yards to the Indy 46. On 3rd and 12, Manning hit Reggie Wayne for 10 yards. On 4th and 2 from the Saints 46, Manning stayed on the field. With 13 minutes left in regulation, the normally conservative Caldwell decided not to punt. Of course, Manning has been known for waving punt teams off the field. He is a field general and perhaps the only quarterback allowed to do this. He again backed it up, hitting Wayne for 14 yards to the Saints 32.

The drive then bogged down as a pass to Collie actually lost 3 yards. On 3rd and 11, a running play to pick up a few yards would have made the field goal attempt easier. Instead, a deep pass to Collie was incomplete. On 4th and 11 from the 33, Manning was not going to be going for it this time. Adam Vinatieri would not be attempting any heroics today either. Matt Stover came in for a 51 yard field goal attempt. It looked good, and would have been from 45. At the end it hooked left, and the slice miss gave the Saints the ball in excellent field position at their own 41. This time it was the Colts that had the ball for over 6 minutes with no points to show for it. 10 1/2 minutes still remained in this one point game.

Reggie Bush picked up 12 yards to the Colts 47. Brees then threw 5 straight short passes to 5 different receivers. Between hitting Thomas, Henderson, Bush, Colston, and finally Robert Meacham, the Saints were at the Colts 14. Brees ran out of different names, so he went to Thomas again for 9 yards. Thomas then ran it to the 2 to give Brees’s arm a one play rest. Then Brees realized he did have more names to choose from, so he hit Shockey for the 2 yard touchdown to put the Saints up 22-17. Brees found another different name on the 2 point conversion. Initially it looked like the pass to Moore was dropped. Sean Payton challenged the incomplete ruling. Again, Payton was rewarded, as the call was overturned and ruled a catch. The Saints had retaken the lead 24-17. A strong kickoff return by Simpson had the Colts at their own 30 with 5 1/2 minutes left in this see-saw game. Drew Brees did his part. Now it was Peyton Manning’s turn.

After a false start, Manning hit Garcon for gains of 17 and 10 yards to the Saints 48. Manning then hit Wayne for 12 yards to the Saints 36. With 3 1/2 minutes to go, the Colts faced 3rd and 5 from the Saints 31. Manning was destined to tie the game 24-24, with the only question being which kicker would win a thriller in regulation. Perhaps the Super Bowl would go to overtime for the very first time. Every Super Bowl has memories to last forever, and Peyton Manning was abut to create one. Unfortunately for him and Colts fans everywhere, it was a bitter memory.

Manning threw his billionth slant pass, this one meant for Reggie Wayne. this was after having earlier nearly had one intercepted, and for completing a pass across the field that 2 weeks earlier allowed the Saints to intercept another icon and win the NFC Title Game. Manning went to the well once too often, and this pass was intercepted by Tracy Porter. Manning tried to make the tackle, but unlike a 2 time Super Bowl winner who made one in 2005 to preserve a win and beat the Colts, Manning is not a tackler. Porter was off to the races, pumping his fists as the French Quarter erupted in celebration. The Saints led by 14 points, and the only turnover of the game had the Colts needing a miracle.

Manning had 7 regular season comeback fourth quarter wins, and he began the desperation march at the Colts 14. 5 and 11 yard passes to Clark had the Colts at the 30 at the 2 minute warning. Manning then went deep to Collie for a 40 yard gain to the Saints 30. Passes to Addai for 17 and 6 yards followed by an unnecessary roughness penalty had the Colts with 1st and goal at the 3 with 1:33 to play. An near interception in the end zone was ruled out of bounds, but offensive pass interference moved the Colts back. Manning got the 10 yards back  with a pass to Addai. Manning called timeout, and then tried to wave off the timeout. His reasoning was that if the Colts scored and failed on the onsides kick, they would need the timeouts. It was too late to “cancel” the decision and the timeout stood with 1:16 left.

An incomplete pass to Collie set up 3rd and goal. Again, a bizarre coaching decision by Caldwell will be dissected. An attempt to fool the Saints with a running play fooled nobody, as Addai got dropped for a 2 yard loss. Yes, the Colts had ran well all day, but with just over a minute to play, this was not the time for running. Manning decided not to take another timeout, hoping to save them. On 4th and goal from the 5, Manning hit Wayne at the goal line. Wayne dropped it. Despite going 31 for 45 for 333 yards, Manning could not get the Colts a win. A stunned Colts team watched the Saints erupt in celebration.

44 seconds remained, and the Colts did have 2 timeouts. Caldwell chose not to use them and delay what appeared inevitable. Brees took a knee.Brees, who finished a ridiculous 32 for 39 for 288 yards, was the MVP. The 32 completions tied a Super Bowl record. The scoreboard read Saints 31, Colts 17.

Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, Jim Caldwell, and Peyton Manning were all typically classy af6ter the loss. The Colts got the monkey off of their backs in 2006, so they are not exactly on the ash heap of history. Some will criticize this team for “only” winning one Super Bowl. That is crazy.

Tom Benson did the Benson Boogie. Benson might be the most “beloved” owner since the late Georgia Frontiere, but he failed to get in the way.

Forget Hurricane Katrina. The Saints go deeper than this for much longer than this on the pain scale.

They lost to the 0-26 Buccaneers in 1977. They went 1-15 and wore bags on their head sin 1980, becoming the “Aints.”

In 1983 they were 8-7 and on the verge of their first winning season and playoff appearance. They hosted the 8-7 Rams. The Rams scored no offensive touchdowns. They scored on 2 interception returns of Ken Stabler and a punt return for a score, and a safety. On the last play of the game, the Saints led 24-23. The Rams had a field goal attempt. Bum Phillips could only watch as the kick was good, the Rams won 26-24, and the Saints still did not have a winning season. A sign in the stands read, “It aint over till the fat man spits.” Bum Phillips spit and it was over.

General Manager Jim Finks and Coach Jim Mora came along and turned the team into winners. In 1987 the Saints had their first winning season in a big way, going 12-3. They hosted the 8-7 Vikings in their first playoff game, and lost 44-13. Mora coached the team for 11 years, and put together what might be the best linebacking corps in history, with Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, and Sam Mills. Yet they kept losing in the playoffs. They even played the Eagles, who also kept losing playoff games. The Saints led 20-7 in the third quarter and lost 36-20.

After 11 seasons, Jim “Playoffs!” Mora threw in the towel after a press conference where he said the Saints couldn’t do “diddly-poo.” He said, “We sucked.”

Jim Haslett took over in 2000, and the Saints hosted a playoff game against the defending champion Rams and the Greatest Show on Turf. A week earlier the Rams had beaten the Saints in New Orleans to make the playoffs. Mike Martz said “we beat them here, come back, and beat them again.” The Saints led 31-7, collapsed, saw the Rams come within 31-28. The Saints punted, the Rams fumbled the punt, and the Saints finally had their first playoff win after 34 years.

The Saints regressed, Mike Ditka took over, traded 7 draft picks for Ricky Williams, and the Saints got worse. Then Hurricane Katrina hit. The city was a mess, and the Saints were pretty bad as well.

Sean Payton came to town. He believed. Drew Brees came to town. He believed. They not only played great football, but they embraced the city when others (the beloved owner) were suggesting the team move to San Antonio permanently.

The Saints started 13-0, lost their last 3, and responded by beating Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, and Payton Manning. The last 3 Super Bowl losing quarterbacks have been Manning, Warner, and Tom Brady, another quarterback beaten this year by the Saints and Drew Brees.

Jim Finks is long departed. Jim Mora is retired, and proud of both of these teams he coached. He did not win a playoff game, but he turned them both into winners before Sean Payton, Tony Dungy, and Jim Caldwell arrived.

Rickey Jackson has just made it into the Hall of Fame, inducted one day before the Super Bowl.

Off the field, Drew Brees does charity work, and has helped literally rebuild the city with his good works.

On the field, civic pride erupted with his MVP performance.

Peyton Manning is still one of the greatest of all time, but was one tragic mistake from being the best in this game on this day. Archie Manning is hurt for his son, but will appreciate the Saints win as a gutty performance.

Archie Manning was the original Saints hero. He was there for the early years.

One thing is certain in all of this. The Saints are no longer losers. They are now the very best.

On this day, we all wanted to be in that number. The Saints went marching in.

In 213 days, the NFL 2010 season kicks off. Before that is the NFL Draft.

The Saints are the defending champions, and Super Bowl XLIV is in the history books forever.

31-17 Saints


One Response to “Super Bowl XLIV Recap”

  1. The Saints won because Sean Payton played a patient and balanced game. He’s a true Parcells man. He kept Manning off the field, the cameras catching Manning stewing angry on the sidelines for what seemed like an eternity. The Colts, who had ZERO running game all year long, finally found the ground game in the playoffs, but rather than stick to it, they kept it in the air – one play too many. And that’s all it took. Sure enough, he was intercepted and the game was over. This is what cost them the game.

    Sean Payton ran what seemed like some tricky-dicky stuff, but it was deceptively smart. The Saints had been practiced and planned that on-sides kick. That wasn’t pulled out of a hat, and they played it beautifully. Payton tried – seemingly counterintuitively against the Colts fast front – running outside the tackles. It seemed almost stupid, but it was genius – forcing the Colts to play a spread against the run, eventually opening the middle for a key run gain. All that tricky-dicky stuff was actually carefully planned strategy.

    These were two very evenly matched teams. Down the stretch of the post-season, their strengths were consistant, and their weaknesses overcome. The Colts running game, which was pathetic during the regular season, and the Saints defense, which was mediocre at best during the regular season, both turned it up for the game, further evening the match-up. These teams both feature, without a single doubt, the two best quarterbacks in today’s NFL. What this game came down to was a battle of coaches, and the better coach, Sean Payton, won.

    Congratulations Saints!!!!! (I’ve now officially seen everything – the Saints have won the Super Bowl!)


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