On Wednesday I was listening to an ESPN podcast, and was a bit bothered by what I heard when a gambling “expert” came out to say the Saints had “no chance in this one.” He said that by any metric or trend you used, the Colts were the only team you could sensibly bet on. When the host asked him to make a case for the Saints anyway, the expert was confounded. Even the more reasoned prognosticators declared that the Saints would need to get a great punt return or they would have to have some fluky things go their way. It was never about strategy, it was always a series of “ifs.”
From the first quarter on, the Saints won in every part of the game. They didn’t get pressure on Peyton Manning, but they made a few plays here and there and contained the passing game with their athletic secondary. They were gashed in the running game, but never allowed the Colts to rely on it the way great running teams can. For all their bluster and great plays, the Colts only managed a single touchdown after their early run. The first quarter had the Saints on their heels, confused and out of position as Manning confidently marched down the field on their opening drives. The Saints offense, for their part, were a lovely manifestation of the overmatched NFC patsy that the pundits had projected.
After that point however, New Orleans was simply the better team. Though the game was exciting throughout, this win was not the result of any “fluky” plays or strokes of luck. The vaunted Colts defense looked lost when its pass rush was unable to pressure the unflappable Drew Brees, and it was the Colts who remained on their heels as Saints receivers held onto one ball after another despite blistering hits after the catch. This of course was a team that faded down the stretch the same way that Indianapolis did, but since they were the lowly Saints they were quickly discounted by fans as they “backed” into the #1 seed in the playoffs.
They dispatched three Hall of Fame quarterbacks in succession on their road to the playoffs, from Kurt Warner to Brett Favre to the immortal Peyton Manning. Yet until the Great Manning threw his pick six to Tracy Porter there seemed a sense of inevitability that the Colts would take their “rightful” place at the podium. Even then it wasn’t finished, but it started the beginning of the end.
In a great number of Super Bowls you are left thinking it was a great game, but that the winning team was not necessarily the best team in the NFL (see New York Giants, 2007?). That was not the case tonight. New Orleans proved to me that they are not only the Super Bowl Champions but are the best team in the country. Congratulations Saints, you earned it.