Saints fans can take bags off their heads; Manning may need to put one on
By Bernie Miklasz
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
MIAMI — As New Orleans Saints cornerback Tracy Porter sprinted 74 yards with an interception return for a touchdown, making the epic play that determined the outcome of the Super Bowl, he carried more than a football.
Porter had so much baggage in his arms. He toted all of those losses that represented decades of utter failure for the New Orleans franchise. He held the paper bags that embarrassed Saints fans once wore to home games to conceal their faces. He clutched the shocking video and photographs that captured the devastating images of Hurricane Katrina.
And more than anything, Porter had all of the hopes and dreams in his hands Sunday night when he ran away from the sad and sorry past, delivering the Saints and their fans onto the higher ground where champions stand.
This was divine intervention.
A divine interception.
With quarterback Peyton Manning marching the Indianapolis Colts to a potential tying touchdown, Porter jumped in front of wide receiver Reggie Wayne and changed history with 3 minutes, 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The Colts were denied a second championship in four years.
The Saints completed the spiritual and symbolic comeback from Katrina.
And after the Saints wiped out a 10-0 deficit to upset the Colts 31-17, you could throw away all of the alarm clocks in New Orleans, because no one there will be sleeping for a while. The biggest party in New Orleans history was well under way by the time Saints coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees took possession of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“Are you kidding me? Four years ago, whoever thought this would be happening?” Brees said. “Eighty-five percent of the city was under water. People were evacuating to all over the country. Most people left not knowing if New Orleans would ever come back, or if the organization would ever come back.”
Brees was magnificent, outplaying Manning and producing one of the greatest performances in Super Bowl history. After a quiet start — he mostly stood and watched the Colts control the ball and the first quarter — Brees took charge. Over the final three quarters, Brees completed 29 of 32 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns. After being down 10-0, the Saints outscored the Colts 31-7 the rest of the way, and Brees was named MVP of Super Bowl XLIV.
No wonder fans Saints fans have renamed their town.
Welcome to Drew Orleans LaBreesiana.
Manning was the National Football League’s MVP during the regular season, but Coach Payton decided to have his own recall election after his team won the biggest game in franchise history, referring to Brees as “our league’s MVP.”
The cocky Payton deserves a lot of credit. He took a daring approach throughout Sunday’s game, going for a TD on fourth down and goal from the one late in the first half. (It failed.) Payton raised the ante at the start of the second half. With his team trailing 10-6, Payton called for an onside kick and caught the Colts off guard. After the Saints scooped up the free ball, Brees and the offense cashed it in for a touchdown and a 13-10 lead.
And Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and his players came up with enough different looks and blitzes to make Manning hesitate or make the wrong choice a few times. The Porter TD came at the end of an aggressive blitz.
After the Colts went ahead 10-0, this is what they did with their remaining possessions:
Missed field goal.
Interception return for a touchdown.
Loss of ball on downs.
That’s only one score on six opportunities, and few teams have done that to Manning. I didn’t believe the Saints could shut Manning down over an extensive stretch, which is why I picked the Colts to prevail. But the Saints muffled Manning. He certainly made a lot of plays — the Colts finished with 403 yards — but the Saints made key stops. After converting on four of their first five third-down situations, the Colts succeeded on only three of their final 10 third and fourth down plays.
“We had some chances,” Manning said. “They made the critical plays when they had to and we didn’t, and that was the difference in the ball game.”
Williams was coordinating the Tennessee defense when the Titans lost to the Rams 10 years ago in Super Bowl XXXIV. Williams has never watched tape from that game because the loss to the Rams was too painful.
“It sure feels a lot better today,” Williams said. “Maybe this is redemption for me.”
The Colts will have a hard time living this one down. This loss will dog them for a long time. They established command and a 10-point lead and dissolved over the final three quarters.
Rookie Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell had a terrible game. Among other things, he opted to attempt a 51-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Matt Stover, 42, hasn’t made a FG of 50-plus yards in four years. Predictably, he missed. The bad decision gave the Saints excellent field position, and Brees zoomed them down the field for the go-ahead touchdown, two-point conversion and a 24-17 lead. The horrible call by Caldwell flipped the momentum.
And on Sunday, Manning gave a gift to his hometown of New Orleans: the interception that made the Saints champions.
I admire Manning, but with this loss he’ll be downgraded in history’s rankings. Manning’s postseason record is 9-9. He has led the Colts to the playoffs 10 times in the last 11 years, and that’s an outstanding run of success.
But along the way there have been four wild-card-round losses, three losses in the divisional round, and two defeats in the AFC championship game. Now this.
With New Orleans’ victory, Saints third-string quarterback Chase Daniel will have as many Super Bowl rings as Manning.
Do we need to say anything more?