Super bowl XLIV was a fitting finale to another great football season. The top two teams in the league produced a high quality match that ended with first time champions in the form of New Orleans Saints.
The first thing to note is that the victory for the Saints was no upset. Sure the Indianapolis Colts were favourites heading into the match but the Saints weren't a shabby team that had just managed to make it to the final match. As No.2 seeds & with a 13-3 record in the regular season they were a fantastic footballing team. Objectively a lot of observers had gone for the Colts given their experience & the presence of Peyton Manning. That the Saints triumphed is just a case of one quality team outplaying the other. The whole underdog aspect makes a great story particularly when coupled with the story of the Saints post Katrina but that does not fit the facts. And all the talk of how the support the Saints enjoyed from neutrals would impact the match is a red herring. The game was won & lost out on the football field and both teams were professional enough to know that this would be the case. Tied into this was the suggestion that the Saints had extra motivation as they were playing for a beleaguered city as well as the state of Louisiana. And I'm sure given the result this view will gain more traction. But there's no way that any team that gets to the Super Bowl requires motivation. The Colts wanted it as bad as the Saints & the fact that many of their players already had a Super Bowl Ring did not diminish their desire for another victory.
On to the game itself the Colts started the more assured, a fact that was highlighted by the 96 yard drive for the first touchdown. In terms of tactics the Colts ran a lot of the plays, with Joseph Addai in particular very impressive. It was clever move as the Colts (ranked dead last in the running game) surprised their opponents who, like most people, expected Manning to throw the ball. Manning did complete the drive with a throw for Pierre Garcon & a 19 yard touchdown. That was as good as it got for the Colts though at the time it seemed impossible to imagine that would be Manning’s only touchdown of the match.
With 10-0 lead after the first quarter the Colts felt in control of the game. From here on in they definitely played just tad more conservatively opting for percentage plays rather than their natural attacking game. Nothing highlighted this better than the timid approach when the Saints failed to convert from just short of the Colts goal line. With the clock running down to the end of the first half the Colts had the opportunity to make Sean Payton rue his attacking call in going for the touchdown. Instead they gave the initiative back to the Saints who courtesy of Garrett Hartley were able to convert with a 44 yard kick to end the half just 4 points behind.
And that was part of the problem for the Colts. Supremely confident in their own ability, they perhaps rightly felt they could step it up whenever it was required. However justified that belief was there’s only so many times you can draw on the well before finding it empty. Besides this was the Super Bowl & the pressures involved are different to any other game. As witnessed by a couple of errors you would never see from the Colts. They had play themselves into a corner & for once they were unable to come up with the answers.
Whereas the Colts were happy to stick with what they had the Saints demonstrated a gamblers instinct. With Coach Payton committed to an aggressive strategy the Saints were going win or lose on their own terms. That much was made clear with their attempt to convert a fourth down on the Colts 3 yard line. But if that was courageous his next call was insane. An onside kick was how the Saints chose to restart the second half. It was a move that worked a treat & allowed the Saints to respond to the Colts 10 unanswered points with 13 of their own.
The Saints never wavered in their aggressive strategy. Going for a two point conversion after their second touchdown as well as blitzing the Colts offence deep into their own territory. Both plays worked with the second all but settling the game when Tracy Porter ran for an intercepted touchdown. But as brave as those plays were they were not just desperation measures by an optimistic Head Coach. They were aggressive moves that had been thought out. Sean Payton had calculated that even if they failed to work it did not mean that the Saints were out of the game, whereas the rewards for success were huge.
The final point of interest of the game was how the quarterback’s matched up. Peyton Manning was being acclaimed as the games best ever quarterback beforehand. And while that may turn out to be true he doesn’t have the title just yet. Drew Brees on the other hand elevated himself to the elite level with his MVP performance. And at the head of a talented squad he’ll certainly have more opportunities to shine in future Super Bowls.
The Saints rightly won for being the team willing to risk more for victory. They played like underdogs & never took their foot of the accelerator. An immense amount of credit will go their whole coaching staff & several of the plays will go into the Super Bowl hall of fame. For the Colts there’s no shame in coming up short against a superb Saints team. They’ll regroup & come back strong next season. The only problem is that this Saints team seems set for an extended run at the games biggest prize.