MIAMI – Sean Payton put in an MVP-like performance.
From the sideline.
The New Orleans coach made all the right calls in the Super Bowl – even one that didn’t look so good at first, well, it turned out just fine. Thanks in large part to Payton’s bravado, the Saints won the first Super Bowl title in their franchise’s largely dismal history, beating that other Peyton – you know, Manning – and the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, Sunday night.
Payton will go down in Super Bowl lore for calling an onside kick at the start of the second half, the first time one had been attempted in this game before the desperation of the fourth quarter. The Saints recovered and drove for a touchdown that put them ahead for the first time, 13-10.
“We were going to be aggressive,” Payton said.
Near the end of the first half, with his team trailing 10-3, Payton decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal from just outside the 1 instead of kicking a chip-shot field goal.
When Pierre Thomas was stuffed for no gain, it looked as though Payton might be remembered for a big blunder.
But the Colts couldn’t do much, backed up against their own end zone, and were forced to punt it away.
The Saints took over at their 48 with 35 seconds remaining – enough time to get back in position for Garrett Hartley, who knocked through a 44-yard field goal on the final play of the half, making sure Manning didn’t get it back.
Payton, it turned out, didn’t want Manning to have it at the start of the third quarter, either.
While The Who was rockin’ out at halftime, Payton calmly strolled up to punter and kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead to deliver the news: It was time for an even bigger gamble.
“We’re doing it,” the coach said.
Morstead knew exactly what Payton meant. The Saints would attempt an onside kick the rookie had been working on less than two weeks, a bounder that he tries to “bend like Beckham.”
After the teams returned to the field for the start of the second half, Morstead made sure to practice one deep kickoff, just to make sure the Colts wouldn’t suspect anything was up. Then he teed it up for real, moving forward slowly as if he was going to swing his right foot into the ball like any other deep kickoff.
Suddenly, the pigskin was hopping along the ground, headed toward Hank Baskett. The ball took a quirky bounce and ricocheted off the chest of the Colts receiver, setting off a mad scramble that took more than a minute to sort out. Finally, the officials made their call.
Saints ball. Jonathan Casillas was given credit for the recovery, but Morstead said it was actually third-string safety Chris Reis with the ball. Whatever, it was someone in a white jersey.
“No one doubted we were going to get the ball,” linebacker Scott Fujita said. “You like that in a coach. He has that certain swagger to him. It carries over to the (players).”
Added Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, “I don’t know if they caught us by surprise, but they got it. It gave them some momentum they needed going into the second half.”