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February 07, 2010
Saints Deliver First Title To Big Easy
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

MIAMI -- Unless you are a die-hard Colt fan, how can't you love what happened on Sunday night in Miami?

The New Orleans Saints did so much more than just win a football game. The Saints have been known for losing and lousy football for most of their 43 seasons in the league. The Superdome has hosted nine Super Bowls, but hosting a game and playing in a game are as different as night and day. Bourbon Street is the party capital of the Deep South, but great food and great jazz does not produce great football. And then there's that big hurricane that hit the region just over three years ago.

So much was assuaged on Sunday night at Sun Life Stadium, as the Saints were finally able to reach the mountaintop of the National Football League. The Saints became the second team in Super Bowl history to overcome a 10-point deficit to win, as the Saints dispatched the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17 to win Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints win the first Super Bowl they ever play in, and bring the city of New Orleans its first pro sports championship ever.

At the epicenter of this win by the Saints was head coach Sean Payton, who died by the sword and then lived by the sword. His gutsy coaching was the true catalyst of this victory, even though the record down and through the years will show that quarterback Drew Brees won the game MVP honors. Payton made two critical decisions, the second of which turned the game towards the Saints for good and might be the most momentous in-game coaching decision in Super Bowl history.

Brees deserved to win the game MVP honors, as his 32 pass completions tied the Super Bowl record set by Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVIII against Carolina. Tracy Porter sealed the game with a fourth quarter interception of Peyton Manning which went 74 yards for a touchdown to complete the scoring. Garrett Hartley, whose field goal in overtime against Minnesota sent the Saints into this game, became the first kicker in Super Bowl history to kick three field goals in a game from beyond 40 yards.

But Payton was the real hero of this game. Shaking off a failed fourth and goal try from the Colts' two-yard line late in the first half when a field goal would have made it 10-6 Colts at the time, Payton stunned the football world by trying an onside kick to lead off the second half. The ball was muffed by Hank Baskett, then one of the most violent and intense scrums ever ensued. The ball was eventually cradled by Jonathan Casillas of the Saints, and six plays later Brees hit Pierre Thomas for a 16-yard scoring pass to give the Saints their first lead at 13-10. It was the first onside kick ever attempted in Super Bowl history which did not occur in the fourth quarter, and it sent shock waves throughout the NFL in general and the Colts in particular.

Even though the Colts would regain the lead at 17-13 on the next drive, the Saints were galvanized after that onside kick. The Saints scored the final 18 points of the game en route to their eventual coronation. The Saint win had its genesis in that onside kick, and even though the players will rightfully reap the benefits and the spoils of this win, it was Payton's decision to try and get the ball to start both halves that was the linchpin to victory.

Payton's game planning and in-game strategy wasn't that bad, either. He unleashed Brees in the second half and presented the Colt defense with something they eventually could not deal with. Brees completed passes to eight different receivers, completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns, and achieved a passer rating of 114.5. Payton took advantage of the fact that the top Colt pass rusher, Dwight Freeney, was hurting all game long and ran a lot of plays to the right, away from the pursuit of Freeney. Brees was sacked only once (by Freeney) and generally had time to throw all game long.

The other thing the Saints had to do was to hold down Manning. Keeping Manning off the field was one successful way of doing it, as the time of possession was about even for both teams. The fact that the Colts had only eight possessions for the entire game was critical. Manning did manage to complete 31 passes, one fewer than Brees, but other than the three scoring drives, Manning never really did get into a consistent rhythm, as Saint pass rushers were able to hurry Manning and drive him out of the pocket, which other than punishing his receivers, is perhaps the best way to deal with Manning.

As well as Payton coached, Colt rookie head coach Jim Caldwell had two moments which contributed greatly to the defeat. After the stunning goal line stand with 1:55 to go in the first half and leading 10-3, Manning had plenty of time to get a touchdown on the board to close out the first half. Instead, the Colts ran three times and punted, and the Saints were able to get a 44-yard field goal from Hartley as time expired at the half.

Then, with 1:10 left, the Colts perched at the Saints three-yard line on third and goal, the Colts called for a running play to Joseph Addai which lost two yards. Still with a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and either an onside kick recovery or forcing the Saints to punt on the ensuing possession, the play forced the Colts to line up quick and pass on fourth down. Wayne dropped the pass in the end zone, and the Saints' victory celebration began.

Porter's interception for a touchdown with 3:24 left in the game seemed to seal the deal at the time. Manning found Wayne in the left flat and seemed poised to hit him with one of his patented quick strikes. But Porter was able to jump the route and make the pick, and ran it back 74 yards for the score which made it 31-17 Saints. The win wasn't official until that fourth down drop by Wayne, but for all intents and purposes the game was over when Porter crossed the goal line.

As Bourbon Street exploded in celebration and began celebrating Mardi Gras nine days early, Saint Nation can finally look at themselves as winners. People love to go to New Orleans, but this Super Bowl win is a success this city has never known, let alone the football team. The Hornets are becoming an NBA power, but this is a Saint town all the way. This perhaps expunges the last remnants of the despair over Hurricane Katrina, and it ushers in a whole new attitude and feeling in the Crescent City.

As for the Mannings, a whole lot of discussions will now ensue. Archie's team finally wins the big one though Dad was rooting for son. Manning fails to win his second Super Bowl, and still cannot sit at the same table as Montana, Bradshaw, Elway, Aikman and (ahem) Brady. Experts will still sit there and proclaim Manning as the best quarterback ever, but on Sunday night he was clearly outplayed by Brees. It will take a lot of conning by Manning well-wishers to convince everyone that Manning really is the all-time top dog.

To heck with Peyton. This win was for Archie, for Tom Benson, for Rue Bourbon, for all those busted levees, for all those people who were hurt by or died from the big storm, for everyone in the Bayou State who now have the biggest bragging rights they will have ever had. Everyone in the USA now knows Who Dat is, and Who Dat are the NFL Champions.

Have fun, New Orleans, and may Ash Wednesday take its sweet time in getting here.


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