More: Super Bowl 2012 coverage.
Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints, winners of Super Bowl XLIV. I have seen the spectrum so far, from people calling this a great Super Bowl, to others saying it was boring. I've talked many times about not being a prisoner to the present. To me, there is no need to immediately look to to try and place this Super Bowl into historical reference with the other 43 games, just because the 24 news cycle says we should. I like to let it sink in for a bit. I can say that it was an entertaining football game and at no point was I disappointed with the action on the field.
Now for some reactions to the game, with some Broncos-centric thoughts for good measure.
Play of the Game - There are plenty of options, from the On-Side Kick, to Peyton's interception. To me, I always look for something a bit more subtle that changes the momentum in a game. That play was the Pierre Garcon drop in the 2nd Quarter, with the Colts leading 10-3. It was 3rd and 4 from the Indy 28 yard line. The Colts hadn't been stopped yet. Garcon ran a 10-yard crossing route and Manning hit him right in the hands with a pass that would have picked up the first down, and likely much more. Instead, it forced the Colts to punt, and allowed the Saints defense to exhale just a bit.
It's always plays like that, moments in a game that few remember that actually change the momentum. The Saints offense had finally loosened up a bit the possession before, getting a field goal. The defense was still struggling a bit, trying to figure out how to slow Peyton Manning down. The best way to do that, as we all know, is to keep the ball out of his hands. That drop took the ball out of his hands, and gave it back to the Saints. The Saints had the ball for 13:00 of the 2nd quarter, in large part because of that play.
Momentum is a funny thing. It can swing back and forth like a pendulum until someone grabs a hold of it. For me, the Saints grabbed the momentum from that point forward. It showed on the scoreboard as well - The score before the drop was 10-3 Colts. The Saints outscored the Colts after the drop 28-7. You do the math.
Clock Management Clinic - The Saints players and coaching staff was on top of its game yesterday - impressive for a group that was making it's firsst trip to the Super Bowl. Case in point? The 4th and Goal decision late in the first half. Down 10-3, the Saints went for it on 4th and Goal from the 2. The Colts stopped the Saints in what many people thought could be the back-breaker. The 2nd-guessers were flooding in, questioning Sean Payton. Why take points off the board?? Simple - situational football.
With just under 2 minutes to go in the half, the Saints had essentially put all their cards on the table. Jim Caldwell had a choice - go all-in or fold his hand. With the lead, and the ball at his 1 yard line, Caldwell chose to run it 3 straight times. Payton had gambled that this is how the Colts would do it - think about it. If Payton goes for 3, he's kicking the ball to the Colts with 2 minutes to go. Realistically, the worst case for the Colts is the ball at the 20 yard-line, 3 timeouts and 2 minutes on the clock. Manning is one of the best in the business in that situation.
In other words, the situation called for Payton to go for it on 4th down. In essence, the risk of losing 3 points was less than giving Manning the ball in a 2-minute situation. The Saints executed, stopping the Colts on defense, then driving into field goal range. In the end, they got everything they had hoped for, minus a touchdown. In some ways, you wonder if Sean Payton preferred to be down 10-6, and in the locker room, than tied at 10, with 2 minutes to go and Peyton Manning on the field.
What Officials - How nice was it to watch a football game without a constant barrage of yellow flags every other play. Scott Green, officiating his first Super Bowl, and his crew, did an outstanding job of letting two great football teams determine the outcome on the field. We all know that some penalties, like holding, happen on every play. Calling a host of penalties, like the crews of Jeff Tripplet or Ron Winter, ruin the flow of a game, especially the offenses.
Even the one challenge, on the 2-point conversion, was handled perfectly by the officials. The line-judge made the correct call, saying it was incomplete. He can only call what he sees. In that instant, it appeared that the ball was incomplete, that Lance Moore did not have possession.
Of course, Scott Green was correct to overturn that call as well. Thanks to double the camera angles of a regular game, Green had several great looks at it. He saw that Moore did, indeed, have possession when the ball crosses the plane of the goal-line. At that point, since Moore when to the ground on his own, the rest of the play is moot.
Great job by Green and his crew of NOT becoming part of the game!
The On-Side Kick and Stealing Possessions - For many, the play of the game was Sean Payton's decision to start the 2nd Half with an on-side kick. It was a ballsy call made by a coach that is not afraid to take chances. He has faith in his football team, faith in his players, and confidence in his preparation. He also knows what we all know too well - to beat Peyton Manning you have to keep the ball away from him, steal a possession if you can.
Rewind to mid-December when the Broncos traveled to Indianapolis to face the Colts. The Broncos won the toss and elected to defer, thus giving the Colts the first possession of the game. The Colts promptly went down, scored a Touchdown, and fans everywhere bashed Josh McDaniels' decision to give Peyton Manning the ball. Of course, a little situational football analysis will tell you, deferring actually gives you an extra possession - statistically, the team that defers will end up with the ball at the end of the half, then receive the opening kick-off of the 2nd Half. An extra possession. MHR's own T.J. Johnson looked at this scenario back in December.
In that game, the Broncos did have the ball to end the half, and did receive the opening kick-off of the 2nd half. In fact, the Broncos had numerous chances in Colts' territory in the 3rd and 4th quarters after Manning threw 3 interceptions. The Broncos just didn't execute and capitalize on their chances.
Back to the Super Bowl. Many people thought Payton might defer after winning the coin-toss, but his motives turned out to be much sneakier than that. Taking advantage of the long halftime - and the fact that no team had tried an on-side kick earlier than the 4th Quarter - Payton essentially did what McDaniels was trying to do to the Colts - steal a possession. The on-side kick worked, yes, but more importantly, the Saints TOOK ADVANTAGE of the recovery by scoring a Touchdown on the drive - exactly what the Broncos COULD NOT do.
What's the point to all this? Execution. Coaches can have all the numbers, they can know all the situations. Players, however, are the ones that make a coach look like a genius or a goat. In this situation, the players executed. Think back to how many times the Broncos didn't convert a 3rd or 4th and short. Those plays, those small failures, are the difference between 12-4 and 8-8. The playcalls aren't incorrect. Given the situations, Josh McDaniels made the right decisions more often than not. It was the players - be it lack of talent or lack of preparation - that were to blame.
That still falls to the coach, of course, but remember. The Saints weren't built in a day. They were in the NFC Championship Game a 3 years ago and have been building their defense. The Broncos are on the right path, but need to continue the process.
Drew Brees, Super Bowl MVP - I have to admit. Watching Brees holding his son - headphones and all - after the game was pretty touching. And somewhere, Chargers fans have to be wondering, "What If?". What if Brees hadn't gotten hurt in a meaningless game to end the 2005 season? What if Brees had stayed in San Diego? Brees, from Purdue, was a late bloomer. It was part of the reason the Chargers ended up drafting Eli Manning with the #1 pick in the draft and trading him to New York for Phillip Rivers. They had essentially given up on Drew Brees. Remember, the only reason Brees was starting in 2004 was because Rivers held out too long to viably compete for the job.
Perhaps this is why I'd like to give another Purdue grad, Kyle Orton, a legitimate shot as the starting quarterback of the Broncos. Orton put up the best numbers of his career - and if he doesn't get hurt against Washington who knows how the season unfolds. He has more than proven his toughness - anyone remember that finger injury - and he can put up the numbers. The Broncos are not a finished product, and I think starting over at the QB position would be a step backwards - not a step forward. Who knows, we could have another late bloomer on our hands!
Peyton Manning, Chokester? Many people are saying Peyton Manning choked. I disagree. The New Orleans Saints are a really, really good football team. To say Manning choked is to take credit away from what the Saints were able to accomplish. A bad pass? Certainly. Give the Saints, and Tracy Porter, credit however, for making a play. While Manning was able to pick the Saints defense apart, his feet never looked comfortable. I always look at a quarterback's feet to gauge if he is comfortable in the pocket. Brees looked comfortable because his lower-half was calm. Manning's lower half was not.
The Saints have been living this way for much of the season. They give up yards, they give up points, but they make the big play when they need it, more often than not. They did against Arizona, then against Minnesota. The same held true against Indianapolis as well. Think about that for a moment - to win the Super Bowl, the Saints beat Kurt Warner, then Brett Favre, then Peyton Manning. Talk about earning it. Those are three Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks.
So no, Peyton Manning didn't choke any more than the Saints defense did what it has done all year - make a play when it had to.
In the end, Super Bowl 44 was an outstanding football game. Maybe not the "best athletic event in the history of the galaxy" or whatever people will say, but an excellent football game. The Saints were deserving winners and have lifted the spirits of a city, and region. Hopefully the attention paid to New Orleans over the next couple of days will help the rebuilding process. Several parts of southern Louisiana are still uninhabitable. Let's hope the Saints' win helps to change that.
As for the Colts? Well, like I said to them, 30 teams are jealous of where they are today. They'll be back, and Peyton Manning might even be more motivated now, now that he has tasted defeat.
A scary thought.