The Indianapolis Colts were defeated by the New Orleans Saints last night by a score of 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. The signature plays of this game included an onside kick to start the second half by the Saints, an overturned 2 point conversion by Lance Moore and a brilliant 74-yard interception return for touchdown by Tracy Porter. There were, however, a number of other plays that were just as critical to the outcome of this game — and they will be forgotten before long. I am putting the spotlight on three plays to illustrate the point that momentum is sometimes really only as good as the next play.
Early in the 4th quarter, the Colts had the ball and a lead. Indianapolis was about to go forward on the 8th play of a drive that began on their own 11-yard line. It was 4th down with 2 yards to go from the New Orleans 46-yard line. I remember saying at the time, “Caldwell’s telling the Saints, ‘I’m not scared of you’s!'” Peyton Manning executed a slant pass to Reggie Wayne for 14 yards. Wayne cut inside of Tracy Porter (something he was unable to do later in the game), bobbled the ball and held on just as he was crunched by free safety Darren Sharper.
From the looks of it, after converting such a big play at midfield, the Colts were riding high. They had the ball, a lead, and were driving into field goal range in New Orleans territory. First and 10.
The Saints may have had a successful onside kick and scored a touchdown, but the Colts still led and there was no sense at the time that the game was lost. Joseph Addai had been tremendously on the ground and in the air. He had already amassed 77 yards on 11 carries (and scored a touchdown). The Saints defense had settled down, but they were clearly on their heels after this 4th down play…right?
On first down, the Colts attacked the left side on a run by Joseph Addai. The NFL has credited this tackle to Jeff Charleston, a third year defensive lineman out of Idaho State. Charleston made the initial hit and held Addai by the feet. You can see from this clip (below) that Jonathan Vilma, the sixth-year veteran from Miami, makes the decisive hit to hold Addai for a two yard gain. (Vilma is almost parallel to the ground and trying to rip the ball away from Addai.)
This play happened with almost 12 minutes left on the clock. Joseph Addai would rush the ball only one more time for the rest of the game. Second and 8.
On second down, the Colts tried the right side with a screen pass to Austin Collie in the flat. Collie was tackled for a loss by Malcolm Jenkins. Manning passed the ball before the play was set up. On what appeared to be a double screen design (with Donald Brown going left), Saints DT Anthony Hargrove exploded up the middle and forced an early pass. Third and 11.
On third down, the Saints covered routes in and around the markers and Peyton Manning took a deep shot to Austin Collie down the seam. The play was broken up by Jonathan Vilma…the middle linebacker.
On 4th down, the Colts attempted and missed a 51-yard field goal attempt.
The Indianapolis Colts squandered the momentum of a brilliant 4th down call by failing to move the ball forward and getting their kicker into a “makeable range.” The same thing happened to the Vikings two weeks ago when Brett Favre threw late and deep over the middle trying to get closer for an accurate, but limited kicker. The Saints didn’t win the Super Bowl because of an onside kick. The Colts didn’t lay down and stop fighting after that kick. They continued to make plays and challenge the Saints, but in the end, New Orleans’ defense dominated the final three quarters of play. The Colts were outscored 31-7 after the first quarter.
Years from now, very few people will remember Reggie Wayne’s 4th down conversion because it did not lead to anything but a missed field goal. The play, though, should be remembered because it demonstrates how a focused defense can ignore a great play, regroup and get off the field without surrendering points. That’s how games are won.