Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne is money in the bank for the Indianapolis Colts.
The way things have been going with banks, maybe it shouldn't have been such a shock that when Manning looked to his ninth-year wideout, needing 5 yard on third down from the Saints' 31, down a touchdown late, corner Tracy Porter jumped the route and cradled Manning's pass as if it had been thrown to him.
Seventy-four yards later, the New Orleans Saints had a 14-point lead with three minutes and 12 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIV, which they ultimately won, 31-17.
Who dat, indeed. Forty three years in the NFL, one Super Bowl appearance, one win for New Orleans.
This game was going to define Manning's legacy, at the end of his 12th year, was going to put him up there with the very best ever, if he isn't already there. But on a coolish, breezy South Florida evening, Manning wasn't even quite the best quarterback on the field; that was Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees, who faced little pressure against a Colts defense that got off to a great start, then faded, much like sore-ankled defensive end Dwight Freeney, who labored mightily with his injury in the second half.
Brees couldn't find anything up top, but he threw underneath with deadly accuracy - Manning-type accuracy. After he gave the Saints the lead for good, he was 32 for 39 for 288 yards, 2 touchdowns, no picks and a 114.5 passer rating. Manning threw for more yards - 333 - but was 31 for 45 with a touchdown and that game-defining pick. His passer rating was an all-too-mortal 88.5.
Earlier: Peyton Manning’s best moment before halftime was his 19-yard touchdown laser to Pierre Garcon on third and 6.
The Saints got their offense going and pulled within 10-3 early in the second quarter. Their 46-yard Garrett Hartley field goal came after Dwight Freeney, torn ankle ligaments and all, shoved Jermon Bushrod backward, got to Brees and yanked him down for a onehanded sack.
The Saints seemed poised to forge a tie just before halftime, facing third and goal from the Colts’ 1. But Saints coach Sean Payton ran what looked like the same play to the same side on third and fourth down. Third down, Mike Bell slipped as he tried to turn upfield. Fourth down, Pierre Thomas was swarmed before he could turn his shoulders. Kind of puzzling that Payton gave a quick, “pursuit” defense two outside runs to defend, instead of going right up the gut on at least one of those opportunities.
The Saints held on the ensuing Colts possession, forced a punt and ended up kicking a 44-yard field goal anyway, for a 10-6 halftime deficit, but they really should have scored the TD.
The halftime extravaganza seemed to arrive very quickly, and before the Sun Life Stadium crowd had seen much of the offensive fireworks it had been promised. The crowd had to settle for the literal kind, blasting out of the flying-saucer-looking thingy erected at midfield for The Who.
One thing the Saints did right – after a couple of early misfires, they drove the ball and ate up the clock, keeping Manning on the sideline. Indianapolis finished the first quarter with 154 net yards; it finished the first half with 169.
Manning was 10 of 16 for 97 yards at halftime, respectable but hardly the unworldy level he’d established earlier in the playoffs. Drew Brees was 16 for 22 for 164. Neither team had any luck with long strikes, as you might have thought, with the 18th (Colts) and 25th (Saints)-ranked defenses in the house. Especially since the Saints had the top-ranked offense, the Colts the ninth-best.
Manning was able to get the ball just once to Reggie Wayne in the first half, for 5 yards. Brees had much better luck finding Marques Colston, who went into halftime with five catches for 66 yards.
The real firewoks came just after Roger, Pete and Co. headed off. Second half kickoff, onside kick, right off ex-Eagle Hank Baskett, whose primary job for the Colts is to block on kickoff returns. Baskett was unsuccessful in his attempts to pry the recovery away from Saints safety Chris Reis, with umpire Undrey Wash diving into the heaving pile hatless to restore order.
Six brisk plays and 58 yards later, New Orleans had a 13-10 lead. Thomas took a screen at the 20, on the right side, and kept cutting against the grain, through Colts, until he was diving into the end zone.
Manning had gone 70 minutes without a completion, but he didn’t look rusty in leading Indianapolis 76 yards in 10 plays to retake the lead. Twice he hit tight end Dallas Clark for third-down completions. Addai spun away from Jonathan Vilma on the 4-yard TD run.
Saints drove right back down and got within 17-16 on Hartley's third 40-plus-yard field goal of the game.
Earlier: A little surprised by the Saints' first few series; the Colts seem to have done a really good job of film study, they're jumping routes and seem to know where the ball is going. The exception was that would-be long gainer to Marques Colston, where Colston looked away and dropped the ball.
The Saints are getting decent pressure on Peyton Manning, but if their offense is going to play like this, it won't matter. Colts seem to be able to run and throw effectively. Who saw this running game coming? It's 10-0 Colts and Joseph Addai has five carries for 58 yards.
Colts'TD drive -- 11 plays, 96 yards, 19-yard TD to Pierre Garcon on third-and-6. New Orleans is in big ole trouble. Tied for longest drive in Super Bowl history.
Earlier: The inactive lists are up at Sun Life Stadium and as expected, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is going to try to play on the ligament-damaged right ankle he injured in the AFC Championship Game.
Earlier, a report said Freeney was walking without a limp today, after missing practice all week. The guess here is that he isn't limping because his entire leg is numb. As many people pointed out during the week, Freeney's game is based on quickness and a spin move that involves planting his right foot hard. We'll see how that goes.
Stay tuned for more.
To read our post with news about the Eagles' quarterbacks, click here