Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints, who won the Super Bowl tonight over the Colts 31-17. This wasn't an easy win and honestly, it was pretty unexpected, especially after watching the first quarter and the Colts utterly dominate the Saints defense. The Saints looked tense and seemed like the moment was too big for them. So what happened, why did the Saints win and the Colts lose? Here are each of the key plays that made this game a Mardi Gras celebration in Miami.
1. In the Colts third drive, following the Saints field goal making it 10-3, Peyton Manning found Pierre Garcon open on a third down conversion, except Garcon dropped the ball and the Colts had to punt and wouldn't see the ball against until after the two minute warning.
2. The Saints had to go for it on fourth down inside the five because all a field goal there would have done was cut the lead to 10-6 and Manning would of had the ball closer to the 30. After the Saints failed to score, we all assumed the Colts would move the ball, at least for one first down. Instead, they call three running plays and the Saints get the ball right back and kick the field goal to end the half. In hindsight, missing the TD at the 1 was better than scoring one because if you give the Colts more field position, they probably score themselves. It was the best way to neutralize the Colts offense. I don't know who's responsible for the conservative gameplan on that series, but it was the first chink in the Colts armor.
3. Which leads to the second half and probably the perfect moment for a surprise onside kick. The Colts showed us after what would happen if they kickoff normal; they drive right down the field and score. Thus, Sean Payton was right to go for the onside kick, since 40 yards or 80 yards wouldn't have made the difference; though it's not an obvious move at all. Of course, if Hank Baskett holds onto the football, the Colts win. This onside kick was the difference between down 17-6 and 17-13 and the game is very different if it's the former.
4. The first moment that the Colts were in real doubt was the missed field goal. It's been said ad nauseum that Matt Stover doesn't have the range for a 50-yard kick, yet Jim Caldwell calls for a 51-yarder in order to chase three points. This drive was lost on third down on what I thought was the biggest mistake of the game by Manning, throwing for Collie, when Jonathan Vilma had him covered, while blanketed by two others. After dink and dunking the entire drive, including a 3rd and long which Manning setup a short 4th down conversion, he gets too greedy and forces Caldwell's hand. The play should have been the punt on 4th down, though if they went for it, I'd understand since the Saints offense was flawless. By kicking the field goal, they went safe and in the words of John Tortorella, "safe is death".
5. Finally, we come to the interception. After the Saints took the lead, the Colts drove down easily. Then on third down, Manning threw the pass that Tracy Porter read perfectly and took it to the house. I believe that Reggie Wayne was slow in his route and if he runs the route correct and quick, it's just a broken pass and it's fourth down. The shame is that one pass will be the legacy of this game for Peyton Manning, particularly those who think they know football, but have no clue (as well as the Manning-haters). Manning played a great game, though obviously outplayed by Brees.
-I watched Loud Mouths on SNY and Chris Carlin made the case that Brees had a better Super Bowl than Phil Simms. Thinking about it, I have to agree, since he needed to have a 32 for 39 game for 288 yards. Simms didn't have to have his 22 for 25 to win against the Broncos, it was just icing on the cake. Plus, Simms didn't need to lead a fourth quarter drive to beat Denver; Brees did last night. With this Super Bowl, Brees joins Brady and Manning in that top tier of quarterbacks, though he's still third behind them, assuming Brady isn't hurt next season. Also, now the Hall of Fame is a possibility.
-Somewhere inside, deep, DEEP down, I glad Jeremy Shockey caught the game-winning touchdown. You know what, no I don't, if I was saying this, I couldn't finish that sentence. I'm just glad Shockey didn't overcelebrate the touchdown or I would of probably threw the remote at the TV.
-I'd actually comment on the halftime show, except I didn't watch it. But I tweeted this at the time, why isn't there any network scheduling programming for halftime of the Super Bowl? I remember when WWF Sunday Night Heat had The Rock/Mankind WWF Title match in an empty arena and that was when they actually brought artists who I want to see perform. I wrote earlier that much of the recent musical acts have been stale, I don't count Prince and Springsteen, but we definitely need better acts at halftime, at least someone who was big in the 90s (Pearl Jam could be fine here, before they are too old as well).
-Coaching was the difference for the Saints as Sean Payton and Gregg Williams executed their gameplans. Payton took what the Colts gave and was rewarded for his guts, sorta like how Bill Parcells was in his first Super Bowl. I must say though, Payton's performance was like Bill Cowher's first Super Bowl with the surprise onside and fourth down call. Unfortunately for Cowher, he wasn't rewarded because he had Neil O'Donnell throwing into one particular white jersey with a star on the helmet all night. As for Williams, he sucked the Colts offense into the false sense of security and in the end was disrupting patterns by Manning and his receivers.
-The two villians I have to say for the Colts, Jim Caldwell and Reggie Wayne; they contributed to this defeat more than Manning did. Wayne was pretty awful, including the drop at the end of the game. The pleasant surprise, Joseph Addai, who ran well, before the Colts abandoned it in the fourth quarter. Just don't pick him for fantasy based on this game.
-This Super Bowl was very much like Super Bowl XXXII, when you have the Broncos-Packers who were arguably the two best in the NFL that season (with respect to the Chiefs and Niners), Elway vs. Favre who was just like Manning vs. Brees and almost the identical score, which each losing QB has a play they want back (in Favre's case, that final drive). Also, the Manning-Favre comparisons continue as they are both 1-1 in Super Bowls and threw the INT's that led to the Saints championship win.
-I want to see how Manning responds to this loss. His legacy isn't ruined because of this, but he can kiss Montana-status goodbye and that might have not been fair to compare him to Joe Cool. I don't think we've answered the Brady-Manning question yet and I still think his regular season numbers and performances can't just be dismissed. If the Colts are back in the playoffs again, it's because of Manning and perhaps that young defense and WR's grow up a little more and return to the Super Bowl. However, if this turns out to be the turning point of his career, we will adjust his legacy as such. Makes 2010 very interesting, other than the fact it could be the last season in a while.
-Finally, I wanted to mention the people of New Orleans who have adopted this team like no one since the old Browns and Colts in Baltimore after the devastation of Katrina. I can't help but think of Haiti because they like New Orleans had such a devastating event and maybe someday, they can find a rallying cry to hop on. It feels right that this team from this city won the Super Bowl. Those people deserve it. It's not a validation of the city being back from the hurricane, that hopefully can come after they host the Super Bowl in three years. It says that this city is past the worst and good things can come soon. Now if only I can party down there with them through Mardi Gras.