Saints QB Drew Brees was named the MVP of the game with 32 completions in 39 attempts for 288 passing yards, two touchdowns, no picks and a QB rating of 114.5.Even more amazing, the Colts jumped out to a 10-0 lead after the first quarter, but the Saints proceeded to outscore them 31-7 going forward. It was a proud moment for a franchise that has been short on them.
The Saints have an overall franchise record of 275-378-5 and they won more playoff games this postseason (three) than they had in franchise history (two). This is a huge moment for a city that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina just four years ago. The city has rallied behind this team ever since and this is the crowning moment for this franchise and the city of New Orleans.
There were a lot of big plays in this game, but the two biggest by far were an onside kick and an interception. Coming out of the half the Saints were down 10-6. They needed to jumpstart their offense, but the Colts were going to receive the kickoff. Head coach Sean Payton made a gutsy call by deciding to go for an onside kick and the Colts were caught off guard and the Saints recovered.
That led to a touchdown and turned the momentum in the Saints' favor. Had that play not worked, the Colts would have had excellent field position and could have probably scored a touchdown. In that event, Payton would be hearing it today.
The other big play was a fourth quarter interception by CB Tracy Porter. The Saints were ahead 24-17 with a little over three minutes left in the fourth quarter. QB Petyon Manning and WR Reggie Wayne have played together since 2001, yet for whatever reason they were not on the same page on that play. Porter picked off the pass and returned it for a 74-yard touchdown, ending any hope of a comeback.
I think the two people that are elevated the most by this performance are Brees and Payton. For Brees, this probably is the defining moment in what should now be a Hall of Fame career. Coming into the game, Brees had 30,646 passing yards and 202 touchdown passes. If he keeps playing at this level for the next five years, he should finish with 50,000 passing yards and 300 touchdowns, which would put him in the top ten statistically all-time.
Coming into this postseason, he had a playoff record of just 1-2. It was going to be hard for him to be considered a Hall of Fame quarterback without a better playoff showing. By having a postseason with eight touchdowns and no picks while outplaying three future Hall of Famers in the playoffs (Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Manning); Brees won the MVP of the Super Bowl and cemented his legacy. While I do not think he can retire today and be considered a Hall of Fame player; with another three or five Pro Bowl seasons, he is going to end up in that elite company.
Payton is a little tougher to decide, because he has only been a head coach since 2006 and a 38-26 record with one Super Bowl is too light of a resume to decide. What this victory does do is thrust him into the conversation of being one of the elite coaches in the NFL. To be in that company after just four years is an amazing accomplishment. We will see where his career goes going forward, but Payton went from innovative play caller to Super Bowl champion this year and the future is bright for this very creative and innovative head coach. For a team to go from 15-17 in 2007 and 2008 to Super Bowl Champions is a great accomplishment.
As for the Colts, Manning critics are going to cite this as evidence that Manning is not good in big games. Manning did not play a bad game, but on a day when he needed to play his best game, he did not deliver. Manning was 31-for-45 with 333 yards passing, but had only one touchdown, one pick and a QB rating of 88.5. His offense was held to 17 points and his interception took the Colts out of a scoring chance to tie the game and sealed their demise.
I do not think that is entirely fair to put this all on Manning. I do not think one throw defines a quarterback's legacy and making the Super Bowl is still an impressive feat. While Manning is never going to be mentioned in the same postseason breath as Bart Starr, Joe Montana or Tom Brady; nine playoff wins and a Super Bowl ring are nothing to scoff at. Manning's legacy is secure, even with that pick and that loss.
Here is the problem with the Colts. This team feels a lot like the Atlanta Braves. From 1991 to 2005, the Braves won 14 straight division titles. They made five World Series, but had just a 1-4 record in those World Series. The Colts led the NFL in wins this decade with 115 wins and 45 losses or a winning percentage of .719. The Colts won the AFC South six times and had the No. 1 seed three times. Yet, they won only one Super Bowl this decade.
Teams do not become legendary by winning regular season games; they become legendary by winning Super Bowls. On the one hand only six franchises won a Super Bowl this decade and only two of them one more than one. Saying the Colts won only one Super Bowl is not fair; it diminishes how difficult it is to win a Super Bowl. However, there is an incomplete feeling about this team. Based on what they did in the regular season this decade, this team should have more Super Bowl rings and anytime a team comes up short in the postseason with that type of regular season success, the Hall of Fame quarterback is going to be the first place critics look.
Manning is still the only quarterback in the history of the NFL to win a Super Bowl in a postseason where he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. The team he beat in the Super Bowl (Chicago Bears) was led by the immortal Rex Grossman. Manning is already one of the 10 best quarterbacks to ever play the game and he could go down as the best in NFL history, depending on where his career goes from here. The blemish on his resume is going to be the postseason and he missed a golden opportunity to end that criticism once and for all against a much better team with a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback.
Instead of talking about leading a game tying score in the Super Bowl and winning the game, we are talking about another devastating playoff loss and a costly interception. For all of his accomplishments he is just 9-9 in the postseason and it is only going to be harder to make the Super Bowl going forward. Eighthy percent of the Super Bowl starting quarterbacks have been between 26 and 34. Manning turns 34-years-old this year and his best targets (Wayne and Dallas Clark) are both 30-years or older. This is a veteran team that does not have a lot of chances left.
I was wrong about the Colts this year, I thought they would struggle to qualify for the playoffs without head coach Tony Dungy there and Jim Caldwell did an unbelievable job of keeping this team focused and in the Super Bowl hunt. What we know is that Super Bowl windows do not stay open forever and the Colts have been a perennial Super Bowl contender since 2003, which means they are at about seven years. They are certainly closer to the end than the beginning.
While I did not believe it to be the case at the beginning of the
season, I will not doubt the Colts in 2010. The Colts should be a
contender next year for the Super Bowl, but the problem is that they
have to start back at square one with 31 other teams. The Saints are a
great team, but they are not an all-time great team and most of the
experts had the Colts winning this game.
It does not become any easier in 2010 and the Colts are left to think about what might have been. Had they just executed a few plays they would be hoisting their second Lombardi Trophy in the Manning era. The line between good and great is a very thin line and the Colts are going to be thinking about this lost opportunity for a long time.
By Derek Lofland, NFL director at Football Maniaxs