They could have played not to lose. Instead they went after their first NFL title. By doing so, the Saints aggressively swiped Peyton Manning’s chance to win a second crown.
The Saints spotted Indianapolis 10 points, and then took control of the game. They did it by remaining patient on offense, tackling better, and never showing Manning the same look on defense twice.
Oh, and Sean Payton made the gutsiest play call imaginable.
The most famous onside kick in Super Bowl history was called “ambush.” We can’t think of a more fitting description to what the Saints did to the Colts.
Seriously, who calls an onside kick down 10-6 to open the second half of the Super Bowl? If the play didn’t work, Payton would have been crucified.
Payton told his team all week to expect the play. They practiced it again and again, and he felt like they had a 70 percent chance of recovering the ball. When Payton told the team at halftime that the kick was coming at halftime, the players loved it.
“We all knew we were going to get it,” linebacker Scott Fujita said. “There was no doubt about it.”
Pierre Thomas, still breathing heavy 45 minutes after the game, couldn’t stop shaking his head in disbelief about the win. But the onside kick made perfect sense to him.
“Well, we knew all week that their return team would jump — you know, take a step back real quick before the ball is even kicked. … We did it at the right time.”
The image of the Colts retreating while the Saints charged forward is appropriate. Even when the Saints failed, it seemed like they were going for broke.
Two different approaches
Payton’s propensity for aggressive calls didn’t always work. He chose to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line late in the first half, and the Saints were stuffed. What could have been a huge boost for the Colts instead turned into a footnote.
The Colts’ strategy after their goal-line stand was symbolic of the rest of the game. Indianapolis had a chance to try drive for a score with Peyton Manning, football’s best quarterback at the two-minute drive. Instead, they called three straight running plays.
The Saints stuffed a third-and-one run by Mike Hart, then punted back to the Saints. New Orleans drove for a quick field goal to cut the halftime score to 10-6. The Saints won by going for broke. The Colts lost by running plays to Mike Hart.
Staying aggressive on defense
Even the Saints’ haircuts were more aggressive. Could you imagine one of the Colts shaving “SB 44” into his head like Saints cornerback Tracy Porter did before the big game?
Porter, of course, provided the game’s biggest play by jumping in front of a Peyton Manning pass and taking it 74 yards for the game’s final score. The Saints changed their defensive looks all night, from a 3-4 alignment to 4-3 and back. They blitzed from a variety of places, including multiple times right before Porter’s interception.
“That series of plays, trying to set up the route and hopefully set the formation that they would call, it kind of fell into our place right there,” said defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
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