Everyone in the Saints organisation, from ownership on down to the players, went to great lengths to dedicate the victory to their city in post-game interviews. The Saints have become a true symbol of hope and of community for a city that went through so much heartache in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
For the first quarter, such a victory seemed unlikely. After an early field goal, Peyton Manning and running back Joseph Addai then led the Colts from their own 4-yard line, all the way down the field. Manning capped the drive with a 19-yard pass to Pierre Garcon, to put Indianapolis into a 10-0 lead after the first 15 minutes.
However, after the first quarter was all Colts, the second was certainly all Saints. The New Orleans defence kept Manning off the field, allowing the Colts offense just six plays in the quarter, in contrast to the 26 ran by Drew Brees and the Saints. For all the possession though, they didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t capitalise as much as they really should have. Garrett Hartley kicked a field goal to get the Saints on the board at 10-3.
Brees then led them down the field again, for a first-and-goal at the Indianapolis 3-yard line. The Colts defence stood strong for three plays, before New Orleans decided to go for it on 4th down. A questionable play call from Saints head coach Sean Payton saw them try to run it around the end, but the Colts saw it coming, with Pierre Thomas hit by four Colt defenders short of the goal-line.
The Saints managed to get the ball back and kick another field goal before half-time to send them in trailing by four, but the goal-line stop looked to be a huge momentum shifter for the Colts.
Whilst everyone was watching The Who provide the half-time entertainment in Miami, Sean Payton was sat in the locker room coming up with a plan to get the momentum back. He did that in a big way with the opening kick-off. The Saints went for an onside kick, and after the ball bounced off a Colts player, the Saints managed to drop on it. Six plays later, Brees dumped a short pass off to Pierre Thomas, who barrelled his way into the end zone to give the Saints their first lead.
Unfazed, Manning drove the Colts down the field once again on the next drive, running plays from a no huddle offence, to try and disrupt the Saints defence. Addai capped the 10 play drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to put the Colts back on top at 17-13. Hartley then kicked his third field goal of the day, to bring the Saints back to within a point, going into the 4th quarter.
The Colts began the next drive from their own 11-yard line, and took the ball to the Saints 30, before the drive was stalled by the rejuvenated Saints defence. Manning couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hide his frustration on the sideline as Matt StoverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 51-yard field goal attempt hooked wide left, unable to increase the Colts shaky one-point lead at 17-16.
Drew Brees sealed his selection as Super Bowl MVP on the next drive, completing seven straight passes, the final one to tight-end Jeremy Shockey for a touchdown. The Saints immediately went for the two point conversion to go up by seven, but BreesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ pass to Lance Moore was called incomplete on the field. After briefly talking to Moore, Sean Payton threw his challenge flag.
The video replay showed that Moore, despite juggling the ball, managed to gain control of it whilst over the goal-line. The decision was overturned, the points good, giving the Saints a 24-17 lead with 5.42 left on the clock.
The spotlight was then back on Manning, and, out of the shotgun, he drove the Colts deep into the New Orleans half. The comeback was quashed when a Manning pass intended for Reggie Wayne was picked off by cornerback Tracy Porter, who took it all the way back for a 74 yard return for a touchdown, and a 31-17 lead for the Colts.
Indianapolis fans were given hope as the Colts marched back up the field looking for the first of the two scores needed to tie it up. However that hope was ended when Reggie Wayne had a 4th down pass go straight through his hands in the end zone, which would have brought the Colts to within in 7 points, and given them the chance to go for the onside kick.
All that was left to do for the Saints was run down the clock, amidst wild celebrations on their sideline. Manning sat alone on the opposite side of the field, rueing what might have been. He finished up 31 of 45 for 333 yards, with a touchdown, but also the crucial interception. Brees finished up 32 of 39, for 288 yards and 2 touchdowns.
It was a game neither quarterback really deserved to lose, but when it came down to it, the Saints defence made the bigger plays when they were needed. Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, in his rookie season, was fairly conservative in his play calling, understandably happy to defer to Peyton Manning on the field much of the time.
Sean Payton and his gutsy calling went a long way to energise his Saints team when they really needed it, and that was perhaps enough to give them that edge that they really needed.
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