NFL: Saintsí ride will end with loss to Colts
By Tim Kawakami
San Jose Mercury News
Good for the New Orleans Saints. Good for their proud city and their deserving fans. Good drama. Good story.
But mostly, the Saintsí bizarre overtime victory over Minnesota in the NFC title game was good for the Indianapolis Colts, who should easily defeat New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV.
After all that roar and Bourbon Street celebration, hereís where the Saintsí fun fairy tale ends, Iím sorry to say.
Sunday evening, the Colts were quickly installed as four- to five-point Las Vegas favorites, and I will guess that the number inflates significantly in the coming days.
My early prediction for the Feb.7 game in South Florida: Colts 34, Saints 20; and itís a conservative estimate.
Thatís an easy call, because the Colts and Peyton Manning gritted out a comfortable, clinical 30-17 victory over the New York Jets earlier Sunday in the AFC title game.
By the way, I think the Jets, who were outclassed by Indianapolis, are better than the Saints.
And the Super Bowl is an easy call, because the Saints lucked out on the overtime coin flip (tails, they got the ball, they never gave it up), which is an awful way to decide any championship.
The Saints lucked out on several replay reviews that went their way (one fourth-down spot that looked as if it was marked wrong, one key pass reception that looked as if it should have been ruled incompleteóneither overturned).
And the Saints absolutely lucked out when the Vikingsí long marches through the New Orleans defense were constantly interrupted by Minnesotaís self-destructive miscues.
Yes, the Saints, who won 31-28, get credit for causing the five Minnesota turnovers and for taking full advantage.
Yes, the Vikings canít be credited for a good performance when they were so sloppy and so careless.
But the Vikings outgained New Orleans 475 yards to 257 and completely shut down the Saints and Drew Brees for most of the second half.
The only exceptions: When Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin were handing the ball directly to the Saints.
This is an easy call, because I think Minnesota is better than the Saints and proved it at the Superdome, except on the scoreboard.
Minnesota would have won this game if not for Favreís terrible late interception when the Vikings were driving for a field goal to win it in regulation.
Minnesota would have won this game if Peterson didnít get a bad case of the dropsies (two fumbles, one lost) or the Vikings had won the overtime coin flip, or the referee had correctly overturned one of those calls.
I realize the only thing that matters is the score: New Orleans won, so New Orleans is the NFC representative in two weeks.
You deserve whatever result you get, and the Saints won.
But letís just lightly suggest that the Saints on Sunday used up every bit of black-magic, voodoo-charm, positive-aura good fortune available to them.
It got them to the Super Bowl. This is a good story. In the Super Bowl, by the midpoint of the second quarter, it will be over.
Remember, the Colts put up 461 yards against the Jets, the NFLís No. 1 defense. They werenít lucky yards. They werenít trick yards.
They were yards earned by Manningís passing, by great blocking and by non-headline receivers such as Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie breaking loose in the secondary when Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark were tied up.
What will Manning do to the Saints, who ranked 25th in overall defense? He will carve them up.
Also remember, the Colts had to beat Baltimore and the Jets. The Saintsí NFC draw: the soft Arizona Cardinals and the Vikings, who turned it over five times and still almost came to New Orleans and won.
Of course, the Colts arenít necessarily a feel-good story, as they won the Super Bowl only a few years ago.
So the Saints will and should get lots of love in the next two weeks. This is their first trip to the big game, the memories of Hurricane Katrina are still fresh, and the story is still powerful.
But the Colts are better than the Saints, and only another massive dose of Saints Luck can prevent a New Orleans loss in the Super Bowl.
I think they have run out of luck. It was probably worth it just for the parties that started Sunday night and will rage over the next two weeks. Right up to kickoff, when the Colts will end the story.