The New Orleans Saints upset the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami on Sunday night. Although the game wasn’t exactly the high-scoring shootout between two of the best offenses in the NFL everyone had anticipated, it was nonetheless filled with back-and-forth action, gutsy calls, and clutch plays.
New Orleans, playing in front of a crowd consisting of mostly Saints fans, won the coin toss and elected to receive the kickoff, marking the thirteenth consecutive year in which the team from the NFC has won the toss. The CBS commentator thoughtfully pointed out the odds of this combination happening was under 1 in 8000 — as if the chances of the Colts winning the toss were any lower.
The first half was a battle of ball control and time-of-possession, and the Colts dominated early. After the Saints went three-and-out on their opening drive, Peyton Manning and company took control, jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter — one in which Indianapolis had the ball for nearly eleven minutes and the Saints only ran ten plays. New Orleans seemed out-of-sync (one pass intended for Marques Colston bounced off his face) while Manning dissected their defense masterfully, picking out receivers in single coverage or making pinpoint throws into double coverage — like the 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon.
The second quarter was the complete opposite: the Saints’ offense ate up almost thirteen minutes and allowed only two Indy possessions, both of which resulted in three-and-outs. Despite this dominance, New Orleans could muster only two field goals to pull within four points, and were stopped by the Colts’ defense on third- and fourth-and –goals at the one-yard line. Saints kicker Garrett Hartley would end the day with three field goals from over forty yards, setting a new NFL record. The score at halftime: 10-6 Indianapolis.
The first play of the second half was the defining play of the game. The Saints, kicking off, executed a surprise onsides kick and recovered at their own 42-yard line. Drew Brees completed all five passes on this drive (he would finish with 288 yards on 32 completions, tying the Super Bowl record), culminating in a 16-yard touchdown screen pass to running back Pierre Thomas. Indy would respond with a touchdown of their own, but that would be it for the Colts’ scoring.
Dwight Freeney, the Colts’ All-Pro defensive end whose ankle injury was a big question before the game, was much less effective in the second half — he was repeatedly sitting out to get his ankle re-taped, easing the pressure on the Saints’ offensive line. Peyton Manning and the Colts offense seemed to run out gas as well.
The Saints added another long field goal from Hartley on the ensuing possession, but the Colts still held a one-point lead, 17-16. After a missed field goal, however, the Drew Brees and the Saints drove to another touchdown. Brees was outstanding again, completing all seven passes on the drive to give New Orleans its first lead of the game. After Lance Moore’s acrobatic two-point conversion catch which required a New Orleans challenge to confirm, the Saints held a 24-17 lead.
Peyton Manning still had five minutes to engineer a fourth-quarter comeback, but, as predicted in last week’s column, the Saints defense came up with a clutch play. Tracy Porter, who had the game-saving interception to force overtime two weeks ago against the Vikings, jumped on a pass intended for Reggie Wayne and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown — the only turnover by either team in the game. To add injury to insult, Manning was leveled by a blocker in his attempt to stop Porter.
The Colts now had to score twice in the remaining 3:12 to force overtime, but their drive stalled at the five yard-line and they were unable to convert on fourth down. A Drew Brees knee and Sean Payton Gatorade shower later, the city of New Orleans could finally celebrate its first Super Bowl title.
And also, here’s a shout-out to Caroline Huang and myself, Tech Staff who picked the Saints to win. We get bragging rights in the section and eternal glory. (Or at least until March Madness brackets come out…)