This is indeed a story that I did not want to write.
After all, the Colts would win their second Super Bowl and I would talk glowingly about Peyton Manning and company, right?
Well someone forgot to tell Drew Brees and his Band of Renown, as New Orleans shook off a 10-point deficit and proceeded to dismantle the Colts secondary in a way that was to say the least, difficult to watch.
After holding New Orleans to a quick three and out on their first possession, Manning would come out sharp and hit Dallas Clark for an 18 yard gain on the first play from scrimmage. The Colts would continue to move the ball down the field, but the Saints’ defense stiffened and Indianapolis would have to settle for a 38 yard Matt Stover field goal to take an early 3-0 lead. The Saints would again sputter on their next possession handing the ball back to the Colts on their own 15.
Joseph Addai would breath life into a Colts running attack that had been missing in action all year, as he romped for 53 yards in three carries to set up a 19 yard touchdown pass from Manning to a wide open Pierre Garcon. Suddenly all the sports bars in Indy were rocking, as the Colts led 10-0 and looked to be on their way.
The Saints would finally get things in gear on their ensuing possession, moving the ball to the Indianapolis 22 yard line and appearing to be ready to cash it in, until Dwight Freeney beat single coverage and sacked Brees at the Colts 29, forcing the Saints to settle for a 46 yard Garrett Hartley field goal.
Following a quick three and out, (all running plays) the Colts handed the ball back to New Orleans in great field position and the Saints again using the short passing game, would march the ball down to the Indianapolis goal line, only to have Gary Brackett make an incredible defensive play on fourth and goal to deny the Saints any points and give the Colts the ball at their own one yard line. After three mystifying running plays failed to yield a first down, Indianapolis was forced to punt, and just four plays later, Hartley would kick his second field goal of the game to trim the lead to 10-6 at the half.
With the Colts slated to receive the kickoff to start the second half, New Orleans shocked the Colts (and the free world) by executing a perfect on side kick attempt, that they recovered at their own 46 yard line, giving them possession and more importantly, momentum. Brees would waste no time going up top, as he outfoxed the Colts secondary with short passes, and when Pierre Thomas hauled one in and scampered 16 yards for a touchdown to put the Saints up 13-10, you could see the uneasiness on the Colts sideline beginning to develop.
Not to be outdone, Manning reminded the Saints defense who had perfected the short passing game, and quickly moved the Colts down the field to allow Addai to waltz in from four yards out and reclaim the lead at 17-13.
The Saints would answer with a short drive that produced Hartley’s third field goal of the game to trim the margin to 17-16, and set the stage for an epic fourth quarter that Colts fans will undoubtedly never forget, as much as they may try.
Indianapolis would move the ball again with short passes, rather than taking shots down the field, and when the drive stalled at the New Orleans 33, Stover would miss a 51 yard field goal attempt to give the Saints the ball with 10:39 left in the game. Brees would then masterfully carve up the Colts secondary with his pinpoint accuracy and when he found Jeremy Shockey from two yards out, the Saints had regained the lead at 24-17 with 5:42 left between them and a party bigger than any Mardi Gras the city of New Orleans has ever seen.
I really did not think it was over at this point, as Manning has led so many “come from behind” fourth quarter drives in his career. You just knew he would pull this one out, and if nothing else, force overtime and win it there. “Captain Comeback” started out in that very fashion, and appeared to be moving toward a scoring drive, hitting both Garcon and Reggie Wayne twice, moving the ball to the New Orleans 31 yard line with just over three minutes left. Manning would again try to connect with Wayne at the Saints 26 yard line, but his throw would instead find Saints cornerback Tracy Porter, who would take it 74 yards to the house for a touchdown and a commanding 31-17 lead.
Still with 3:12 left on the clock, you could not give up on these Colts, as they can score in bunches, in a lightning quick fashion.
True to form, a no doubt beleaguered Manning moved the Colts close to the New Orleans goal line, but when his fourth down pass to Wayne fell incomplete, the game was over and the celebration in the state of Louisiana was indeed on.
Notes: While you generally cannot second guess Colts Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore, his conservative pass play calling against the Saints was indeed glaringly apparent. The Colts never took a truly deep shot against the Saints in the second half, and that is not typical. Why didn’t he air it out more?
Dwight Freeney declined to take a pain killing injection (thank goodness) and played valiantly in the first half.
While I do not think the Colts should have allowed him to play, Freeney deserves a lot of credit for even attempting to do such.
This man’s toughness can never be questioned as he gave it all he had in a losing effort. Too bad the Colts secondary did not bring it the same way Freeney did, as they allowed Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees to complete 32 passes, which tied the record set by Tom Brady of New England. The Colts secondary was pathetic and embarrassing and surely some heads will roll in terms of replacing both players and coaches connected to the dismal performance. Are you listening Bill Polian?
Coach Jim Caldwell was a portrait of class in what had to be an agonizing post game press conference. There is no doubt that this is the right man at the helm and the Colts need to extend his contract in the off season. The guy is a winner, and deserves a big pay raise. Are you listening Jim Irsay?
Tracy Porter was all smiles after the game but also had the class to call Peyton Manning a great quarterback and competitor.
The former IU standout was still wearing his shoulder pads an hour after the game, obviously too caught up in the celebration to stop and remove them. It was nice to see a young man who labored in the obscurity of a lame IU football program for years do so well in the bright lights of the Super Bowl.
Porter was joined by fellow IU teammate Courtney Roby, who did an excellent job of returning kicks against the Colts.
Finally, to all of you out there who proclaimed resentment toward my Saints victory prediction, I appreciate all your emails, especially those who brought an insightful, spirited debate to the table as well. While I predicted a Saints win, I truly wanted to be wrong and watch a Colts victory parade as a result. The Colts are a team that can certainly find their way to Dallas next year for the Super Bowl, and with some enhancements on the defensive side, I would expect no less from them. I salute a great Colts season, and encourage all of you to now give that same support to our Pacers, as they need it now more than ever.
Danny Bridges, who set a world record for Orange Julius consumption in Miami and thinks Drew Brees was hands down the best quarterback in the NFL this season, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or Bridgeshd@aol.com.