Fourth quarter interception leads some to question Manning’s legacy
Article by: Christian Petruzzi
After 42 years of ineptitude, the New Orleans Saints are finally Super Bowl Champions. The city of New Orleans is now the center of the football world.
In a game that was closer than the final score indicated, the Saints defeated Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17. Trailing by ten points at the end of the first quarter, things looked bleak for the “Who Dat” faithful. However by halftime the Saints had cut the Colt lead to 10-6, after one of two game changing decisions by head coach Sean Payton.
Trailing 10-3, and facing a fourth and goal from the one-yard line, Payton decided against a chip-shot field goal and instead sent out his offense. The Colt defense rose to the occasion and stuffed running back Pierre Thomas at the 2. This would prove to be crucial. Had the Saints kicked the field goal, the Colts would have gone into their two-minute offense and Manning would have been throwing the ball all over the field, a situation that normally leads to six points.
Instead, the Colts were forced to play it safe and run the ball, leaving under a minute to play and great field position for the Saints following the resulting punt. The Saints took advantage of the opportunity, got into field goal range and kicker Garrett Hartley did the rest.
After a weak halftime show by “The Who,” Payton did something that shocked most viewers and completely threw the Colts out of sync. Instead of kicking off to Manning and the Colt offense, he went for an onside kick. New Orleans recovered and soon after took a 13-10 lead. This was a move that not only changed the game, but made Payton look like a genius. Had the Colts recovered and gone on to win the game, Payton would have shouldered most of the blame.
The move must have frustrated Manning, a player used to structure, who at times seems more like a robot on the field than a human. But in typical fashion, Manning drove the colts down into Saints’ territory and took back the lead, 17-13, on running back Joseph Addai’s four-yard run. Following a New Orleans field goal, the score going into the final quarter was 17-16 in favor of the Colts. In what had been an otherwise error-free game to that point, Colt kicker Matt Stover missed a 48-yard field goal and on the very next drive, the Saints took the lead for good.
Brees hit tight end Jeremy Shockey for a two yard touchdown pass. The Saints, looking for a seven-point lead, went for two and the pass to Lance Moore was ruled incomplete. Following New Orleans’ challenge, the official review ruled that Moore had in fact completed the catch and the two points were good, making the score 24-17 in favor of the Saints.
With his team trailing late in the game, Manning, faced with a moment that could have cemented his legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, threw a lazy pass towards wide receiver Reggie Wayne that was intercepted by Tracy Porter who returned it for a touchdown. Check mate, match point, game over.
On a drive that could have tied the game and sent the game into overtime, Manning made what may be the biggest football mistake of his life. It was a Brett Favre-esque pass in the most critical of situations. Down 14 points after the interception, Manning once again drove the Colts down into Saints territory, but his fourth down pass fell incomplete, and the Saints were champions.
On Super Sunday, the best team usually wins, not the best player. The Saints proved what many had thought throughout the regular season: They were the best team in football in 2009. The questions about Peyton Manning’s legacy will linger throughout the entire off-season. Manning, considered by some to be the greatest player of his generation and possibly the best quarterback in NFL history, still only has one Super Bowl ring.
Although not quite the Dan Marino of his time (after all, Marino never won a ring), Manning is being compared to a variety of other great players who were all-world, but couldn’t close the deal. When Saints’ owner Tom Benson lifted the Lombardi Trophy, the hands of every citizen of New Orleans were lifting it right along with him. The triumph was a well-deserved championship for the Saints organization, and for a city and state that have been through so much turmoil and are finally champions.