That's three good ones in a row: all-time best, top 5 and a top 12, respectively, Peter King's foolishness notwithstanding (he's one of the national football columnists who thinks SB 43 was better than SB 42 -- considering impact, quality of play and historical stakes, that's just dead wrong and his own employer doesn't buy it either). And it's the first Super Bowl I ever watched on partial replay -- because toddlers want dada to go carry them around the neighborhood for an evening walk, not watch a bunch of old buggers at halftime (and to be honest, from what I saw, I liked Roger Daltrey better in his excellent guest stint on CSI two or three years ago).
The Aints over the Colts isn't that much of an upset, but it shows just how important good coaching and momentum are in a one-game winner-take-all championship format. Here's the good and the bad from yesterday's game.
Drew Brees was outstanding and deserved the MVP. And the Colts' RB Joseph Addai ran better than he had all season. But the two best plays of the game were pure coaching:
(1) The Saints knowing they could surprise the Colts with an onside kick because the right side of the frontline for the Colts' kick return team would retreat early to set up blocking on kickoffs. So the Saints topped an onside kick to their left to start the second half.
(2) Tracy Porter's game-sealing interception came from film study. He knew what routes the Colts liked to run on a big middle blitz with two receivers to Peyton's left on third down -- Manning would look to a slot receiver running a "stick route" -- squaring in at first-down yardage first. Porter saw Wayne as the slot receiver, stuck with Wayne, cut in front as the ball arrived and celebrated for the last 30 yards of his 74-yard TD return.
(3) Garrett Hartley, Saints -- first kicker in SB history to bang home three FGs over 40 yards.
(4) Sean Payton's aggressiveness -- the Saints pounded at the Colts for the whole second quarter and even bonking the 4th-and-goal at the one meant no harm because the Colts frittered away their next possession. Payton's game calling led the Saints to score 10 consecutive points on offense before Indy touched the ball -- half-ending FG drive and the TD drive after the on-side kick to open the second half. If Indy gets the second-half kick and scores a TD, the Saints would have been down 17-6.
(5) Saints timeliness -- how else can a team that's been outgained by more than 250 yards in its past two playoff games win both? Timely turnovers. The Saints are one of the WORST defensive teams to win a Super Bowl and they did it not just because of their offense, but because their high-risk high-reward defense paid out on its gambles. In a one-game series, a team just needs to make enough stops to win (ask the '06 Colts, the first SB champ that ranked DEAD LAST in rushing defense).
This shows serious failures by the Colts.
(1) The Drop. Here in the Dallas area, the fans of the local occasionally professional football team remember The Drop -- the third down pass that was in Patrick Crayton's hands, with nary a safety in sight in the divisional playoff game between the Giants and Cowpatties in 2007. Crayton dropped the ball and a 50+ yard gain (with his team up 17-14 and the Giants struggling on offense), the Cowdungs punted, R.W. McQuarters returned the punt to the Dallas 38 and the Giants scored a TD to turn the game around.
Yesterday, third and short, easy throw to Pierre Garcon by Manning -- right in Garcon's hands and 5 yards beyond the first-down marker with some additional room to roam. Garcon dropped the ball, the Saints then dinked, dunked and pounded for their longest drive of the game, which ended with a fourth-down failure inside the Indy 2. That mattered little because . . .
(2) The Dive. On 3rd-and-1 of their ensuing possession, the Colts ran twice for 9 yards and then tried an inside handoff against a stacked Saints line. No gain. Colts punt, Brees goes to work, Hartley bangs home a figgie and instead of Manning working his usual magic to close out a half with more points, the Saints are thisclose to the Colts at halftime.
(3) The Long Field Goal. On 4th-and-11 at the Nawlins 33, with a 17-16 lead in the fourth quarter, Jim Caldwell chose to have 42-year old kicker Matt Stovall try to nail a 50+ yard field goal. Outdoors. On grass. Here are the facts at that point: Stovall was 1/4 over 40 yards all year before his field goal on Indy's first drive; a miss meant Brees would start on the Nawlins 41 and the Colts had not stopped the Saints from getting into scoring range since the first quarter -- in their five drives since the second quarter started, the Saints had 3 FG, a TD and had pushed the ball to the Colts' 1 before getting thwarted on fourth down. Stovall missed, the Saints tossed their way to another touchdown and the Colts were nearly done.
(4) The same old thing. The Colts did almost nothing unexpected the whole game. They played slightly more man-to-man defense in the first quarter, but retreated into their cover 2 zones thereafter. They stuck with their tendencies on defense and offense to such a degree that the Saints were reading the Colts' playbook. In a Super Bowl, the teams need to prepare something extra -- a new play design, different blitzes (the Colts don't blitz much), different coverages, trending away from certain offensive tendencies. The Colts did none of this. The Saints mixed their coverage packages, changed their blitzes, pulled a nice trick play and ultimately outscored the Colts 31-7 after spotting the AFC champs a 10-0 lead.
(5) The flop factor. The largest deficit that a Super Bowl champion has overcome to win the Super Bowl is 10 points -- Washington in XXII and New Orleans last night. Both were first quarter deficits. Only Arizona has overcome a larger deficit to take a lead (from 20-7 down to 23-20 up); and only the Rams (17-3) and Titans (16-0) have even tied a game from two-plus touchdown deficits. This is a trait shared with the NCAA men's hoops final -- in a winner-take-all game, a large deficit is difficult to overcome (largest halftime deficit for an NCAA champ -- 10 points) because of momentum for the leader and emotional strain on the trailing team. Payton's on-side kick success and New Orleans' offensive success put the Colts into a position of a trailing team even though they actually led for much of the second half. The Colts became sloppy and disjointed on key plays, made a coaching and player mistake on consecutive drives, and lost.
So congrats to the Saints who are Aints no more. I'm just wondering what the Miami Dolphins fans are thinking now, four seasons after Nick Saban and the Dolphins rejected the chance to sign Drew Brees as a free agent and one day after he became an NFL champion in the 'Fins home stadium.