INDIANAPOLIS (AP)Sean Payton risked everything to start the second half of Super Bowl 44.
The New Orleans Saints made sure his big bet paid off.
Instead of giving the ball back to Peyton Manning with a chance to open up a double-digit lead that Sunday, the other Payton instructed Thomas Morstead to try an onside kick – one of the most daring plays in Super Bowl history. The Saints executed it perfectly, giving them enough momentum to capture their first world championship.
”I wasn’t too worried,” Morstead said after New Orleans’ 31-17 victory. ”Just terrified.”
The 23-year-old rookie spent most of that season playing the low-key role of punter and kickoff specialist.
But when Payton walked over to Morstead at halftime and explained the decision, Morstead knew he would likely be remembered as the guy who changed the game one way or the other.
Colts receiver Hank Baskett helped write the next chapter.
As he scooted up the field, the ball bounced off his hands and back toward a couple of Saints players. In the ensuing scrum, the Saints came out with the ball and an opportunity to take the lead.
Drew Brees needed only six plays to cash in with a 16-yard TD pass to Pierre Thomas to give New Orleans a 13-10 lead.
And though the Colts answered with Joseph Addai’s 4-yard TD run to retake the lead, they never really recovered from what happened on the kickoff.
”I don’t know if they caught us by surprise, but they got it,” Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said after the game. ”It gave them some momentum they needed going into the second half.”
That was the plan all along.
Payton, like other coaches, didn’t want Manning to have any extra opportunities to pick apart his team.
Former Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher tried to play keep-away with onside kicks early in games. New England coach Bill Belichick even attempted to protect a 34-28 lead with a screen pass on fourth-and-2 from the Patriots 28 in November of that season. When that didn’t work, Manning needed only three plays to find Reggie Wayne for the winning score with 13 seconds left as he continued positioning himself for a record-breaking fourth MVP award.
But the truth was Indianapolis had every bit as much at stake when Morstead lined up at the start of the third quarter.
After winning their first 14 games and seemingly headed toward a 15-0 mark with a third-quarter lead over the New York Jets, first-year Colts coach Jim Caldwell yanked his starters. Indy’s home crowd booed incessantly as the lead quickly evaporated, spurring a decade-long debate in which some players have expressed disgust at throwing away a shot at perfection.
Team president Bill Polian, meanwhile, continually maintained he valued a championship over a perfect season.
And yet, thanks in part to Morstead’s well-placed and timely kick, the Colts came away empty-handed.
Brees gave New Orleans a 24-17 lead with 5:46 left by throwing a 2-yard TD pass to Jeremy Shockey and a 2-point conversion pass to Lance Moore, after Payton won a challenge overturning the incomplete call.
Former Indiana Hoosiers star Tracy Porter then stepped in front of Wayne, picked off Manning and sprinted 74 yards to seal the win, setting off a national celebration for the city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and cementing Payton and Moorstead’s places in team history.
Here’s a look at how the teams have fared since that Super Bowl matchup.
Indy hasn’t been the same since Polian’s decision to protect his starters that December.
Since winning a then-record 115 regular-season games during the first decade of the 21st Century, the Colts have gone 81-76 and are on the verge of missing the postseason for the fifth time.
Manning played his final game with the Colts in a wild-card round loss to the New York Jets in 2010. A year later, following a 2-14 season with the injured Manning missing the entire season, Polian and coach Jim Caldwell were both fired and Manning and most of the aging stars from the 2009 AFC championship season were released.
Indy returned to the playoffs in 2012 and 2013 and reached the AFC championship game in the 2014 season – best remembered as the Deflategate game – but didn’t reach the postseason again until 2018 under another first-year coach, Frank Reich. In August, Manning’s successor, Andrew Luck abruptly announced his retirement and the Colts, a trendy preseason Super Bowl pick, have lost five of six after starting 5-2.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The Saints also have had mixed results under Payton, now the league’s second-longest tenured coach.
Brees has taken New Orleans to the divisional round of the playoffs four times since 2010 including last year’s NFC championship game and this season, they’re again chasing the conference’s top seed.
And thanks, at least in part to a no-call pass interference in last season’s NFC title game, they haven’t been back to the Super Bowl.
Payton’s status also appeared to be on shaky ground following a third straight 7-9 season in 2016 but the Saints stuck with him and they’ve made the playoffs each of the past three years.
The biggest black eye came from Bountygate. Payton and then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams were suspended for the entire 2012 season while general manager Mickey Loomis drew an eight-game suspension and assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for six games after a league investigation found the Saints ran a pay-for-pain scheme for three seasons that started during their Super Bowl-winning season.
The Saints went 7-9 in 2012 under Vitt and Aaron Kromer, who filled in as interim coaches that season.
1967: The 34-year-old Johnny Unitas throws for 148 yards and one touchdown to lead the Baltimore Colts past the inaugural Saints 30-10. Baltimore improves to 11-0-2 with the win but loses the following week at the Los Angeles Rams.
2001: Colts coach Jim Mora, then the Saints career leader in wins, suffers a 34-20 loss in his first trip back to New Orleans. Manning goes 18 of 28 with 262 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his first appearance in his hometown.
2003: Four games into his first MVP season, Manning finally beat the team his father spent most of his career with. Manning throws for 314 yards, delivers the first six-TD game of his career and finishes with a perfect rating of 158.3 in the 55-21 victory.
2011: With Manning sidelined by a lingering neck injury, Brees steals the show in the Super Bowl rematch. He throws for 325 yards and five touchdowns as the Saints roll to a 62-7 victory over the winless Colts. The Colts fall to 0-7 with their most lopsided loss since a 57-point shellacking in 1962 and their second-worst loss in franchise history.
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