By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 8, 2010; D01
MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. -- The New Orleans Saints added the biggest accomplishment of all to a storybook season that galvanized their rebuilding city. They turned their first Super Bowl appearance into their first Super Bowl triumph, overcoming an early deficit to beat the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, Sunday evening at Sun Life Stadium.
"I'm sure they're having a good time on Bourbon Street tonight," Saints Coach Sean Payton said.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees outdueled his more celebrated counterpart, Peyton Manning, by completing 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns, including a two-yarder to tight end Jeremy Shockey with 5 minutes 42 seconds remaining.
That gave the Saints the lead for good, and cornerback Tracy Porter followed with a 74-yard touchdown on an interception return with 3:12 to play. The Colts' chances ended on an incompletion on a fourth-down play from the Saints 5-yard line with 44 seconds to go.
"We played for so much more than ourselves," said Brees, who was named the game's most valuable player. "We played for our city."
The Saints trailed 10-0 in the early going but gathered themselves and controlled the game the rest of the way, getting a lift by recovering an onside kick on a bold move by Payton to open the second half.
Brees followed his touchdown pass to Shockey with a completion to wide receiver Lance Moore for a two-point conversion, on a play that originally was ruled a failed conversion by the officials on the field but was overturned on an instant-replay challenge by the Saints.
Manning connected on 31 of 45 passes for 333 yards and a touchdown, as the Super Bowl passing duel that had been promised did emerge. Neither quarterback threw an interception until Porter stepped in front of Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, grabbed Manning's pass and raced to the opposite end zone. Porter also had an interception late in regulation in the Saints' overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game.
"I saw it over and over on third down, that was a big route for them to convert," Porter said. "When third down came, it was just like I watched it on film. I made a break on it, and there was the end zone."
The Saints beat three Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks -- Arizona's Kurt Warner, Minnesota's Brett Favre and Manning -- on their way to their championship. They denied Manning and the Colts what would have been their second Super Bowl triumph in four seasons.
"We just didn't play well enough at certain times and in certain phases," Manning said. "When we have a chance to possess the ball, it's our job to score. Give the Saints credit. They made the critical plays when they had to. We didn't. And that was the difference in the game."
The Colts raced to their 10-point edge on a field goal and a first-quarter touchdown pass from Manning to wide receiver Pierre Garçon. The Saints got back into the game with a pair of second-quarter field goals by place kicker Garrett Hartley, sandwiched around a goal-line stand by the Indianapolis defense. They took the lead in the third quarter by following their onside kick recovery with a touchdown pass from Brees to running back Pierre Thomas. The Colts moved back in front on a touchdown run by running back Joseph Addai, but Brees and the Saints scored the game's final 18 points.
Defensive end Dwight Freeney played on a badly sprained ankle for the Colts and contributed a sack.
The Colts wasted little time crafting a 10-point advantage during a first quarter in which the Saints had to punt twice. Manning was sharp from the outset and he passed the Colts into position for a 38-yard field goal by Matt Stover, who became the oldest player in Super Bowl history at age 42.
Manning and the Colts were pinned at their 4-yard line to begin their second drive of the evening after the Saints downed a punt there. No matter. The Colts promptly tied a record for the longest drive in Super Bowl history. The Colts aren't known for their running game, but Addai dashed through the New Orleans defense for runs of 16, 11 and 26 yards on the drive.
On third down from the Saints 19, Garçon got open against cornerback Usama Young. Safety Roman Harper was late to provide help. Manning made an on-target throw, and Garçon made the catch and got both feet in bounds in the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
But the Saints regrouped in the second quarter. They put together a solid drive to open the quarter, but had to settle for a 46-yard field goal by Hartley after Freeney overpowered Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod and dragged Brees to the ground for a third-down sack. The Saints got the ball back when the Colts had to punt following a dropped pass by Garçon, and moved to the 1-yard line.
Running back Mike Bell was stopped for no gain on a third-down carry, in part because he slipped on the turf. Payton left his offense on the field on fourth down, and Thomas was met by linebacker Gary Brackett and three other Colts defenders and stopped shy of the goal line. But the Saints got the ball back on a punt and got into position for another Hartley field goal, and he connected from 46 yards as time expired in the first half.
"We had talked about being aggressive coming into this game," Payton said. "At halftime, I just told them we were going to start the second half with that [the onside kick] and let's make something happen. . . . All week long, we really felt as underdogs we had a better team. We felt we liked the spot we were in."
This big gamble by Payton worked far better. The ball caromed off the Colts' Hank Baskett and ended up in the Saints' possession after a long delay for the officials to pull players off the pile. The Saints took advantage when Thomas weaved his way around Colts defenders to the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown after taking a screen pass from Brees.
"You kind of had a feeling they were gonna do something," Colts tight end Dallas Clark said. "They had to get a spark somehow. It was good execution on their part."
Manning and the Colts had an immediate reply, with Manning using three completions to Clark to set up Addai's four-yard touchdown run. Hartley's 47-yarder narrowed the deficit to 17-16 and made him the first kicker to have three field goals from beyond 40 yards in a Super Bowl. The Colts converted a fourth-and-two gamble from the Saints 46-yard line early in the fourth quarter but Stover missed a 51-yard field goal try.
"The Saints used to be the 'Aints," Porter said. "We were a team of destiny. We wanted to show everyone that we could do it."