By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 8, 2010;
MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. -- As members of the New Orleans Saints danced, screamed and prepared for the kind of party that only the Crescent City knows how to throw, their counterparts showered and dressed in record time. The Indianapolis Colts had barely dried off before trading their game jerseys for suits, eager to speed far, far away from this failed business trip.
Just three years ago, Peyton Manning and the Colts had been the ones hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but on Sunday night at Sun Life Stadium, they fell painfully short, losing 31-17 to the Saints. A team that not long ago inspired visions of an undefeated NFL season -- a group that began the season with a singular, unwavering goal that was to climax on Sunday night in South Florida, instead found itself on the wrong side of a 12-round battle of offensive heavyweights.
"We just fall in the pile with the rest of the teams," said Colts defensive back Kelvin Hayden. "We didn't finish the task."
With Manning and Drew Brees headlining the show, Super Bowl XLIV was poised to deliver one of the game's best quarterback duels. And for the most part, it delivered -- at least until Manning fired one wayward, fatal shot in the fourth quarter.
The Saints had overcome a first-half 10-point deficit and led 24-17 when the Colts took possession at their 30-yard line with only 5 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the game. With one of the most clutch, composed quarterbacks to ever play the game leading the way, it was no surprise the Colts needed only six plays to reach the Saints' 31-yard line.
On third down, though, Manning took the snap out of shotgun formation and the Saints started to blitz. The Colts opted for a familiar route -- identical to one from the first half. Receiver Reggie Wayne ran a 5-yard pattern and turned inside. But all he saw was Saints' cornerback Tracy Porter jumping the route, intercepting Manning's pass mid-stride. "A good job of guessing," Wayne called it.
Porter sprinted 74 yards to the end zone -- the fourth-longest interception return in the game's history -- and gave the Saints a two-touchdown lead, sealing New Orleans's first Super Bowl win.
"It was great film study," Porter said. "We knew that on third-and-short, they stack and they like the outside release for the slant."
Hardly in the mood for deep reflection after the game, Manning repeatedly called the interception simply "disappointing."
"He made a great play," Manning said. "That's all I can say about it."
It was a disastrous conclusion to a frustrating second half. As the Saints clawed back in the game behind Brees's pin-point accuracy and Coach Sean Payton's aggressive play-calling, the Colts had only four offensive possessions in the second half.
"I think that we didn't do enough to win," Colts wide receiver Austin Collie said. "That's the bottom line. We just didn't do enough to win."
Any momentum Indianapolis felt in the halftime locker room was immediately siphoned away when the Saints opened the third quarter with a successful onside kick, which resulted in a go-ahead touchdown.
From there, the Colts found themselves chasing after the game's most high-powered offense, and a quarterback who may have supplanted Manning in barstool debates about the league's best quarterback.
Manning was effective but didn't have nearly enough opportunities. He finished the game 31-of-45 passing for 333 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Brees, who was 32-of-39 passing for 288 yards and a pair of touchdowns, was named the game's MVP.
His hair, face and game uniform still soaked in victory, Brees sat behind a microphone and faced the bright television lights, struggling to find different ways to describe the elation brought about by Sunday's win.
At the same time, Manning, still wet from a postgame shower that failed to wash away the hurt yet already dressed sharply in a suit, stepped into the night, state troopers escorting him to the team bus.
They were two talented players from two mighty teams who'd mirrored each other's successes from September until February. But as the confetti rained from the sky, on Sunday night at least, they found themselves headed in different directions.