Although the Saints truly resembled a team of destiny here Sunday night as the Minnesota Vikings self-destructed at every turn, the final gift a Brett Favre interception on a pass that every high school coach preaches never to throw, the Indianapolis Colts should romp in Super Bowl 44.
As good as Drew Brees is, Peyton Manning is better. Manning has been tested twice in the playoffs and gotten up — isn’t it weird to see him fall down and take a sack before being hit? — while winning with ease in the end. Peyton is kind of the robotic quarterback, the guy more accurate than the one in the video game. Every pass isn’t pretty, but it’s usually on target. Peyton is the king of poise. He’s not going to let this second chance at a ring slip away.
None of these playoff games has really gone true to form. I thought the Cowboys were good enough to make it to Miami and for a while on Sunday, the Vikings looked capable of making their first trip since the 1976 season.
Instead, we have destiny’s darlings in the Saints, a first-ever franchise in the big show, against the Colts, a team that won the last time the NFL’s championship game was in Miami.
Yes, the Saints blitzed and knocked Favre around on Sunday. They hurt him and made him limp to the sidelines for a tape job. But a lot of Gregg Williams’ tactics — he likes to be called Wyatt Earp and he was raised at the elbow of Buddy Ryan — may not work against Manning. For one, there will be no crowd-noise advantage in Miami like there was in the Superdome. And two, Manning eventually figures out the blitz, and every blitz combination. By the second half, he was prepared for everything Rex Ryan’s troops were throwing at him and he has a full arsenal of weapons.
I mean, who needs Marvin Harrison and Anthony Gonzalez?
Peyton proved this season he doesn’t. In the AFC title game, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, two guys who weren’t really around last season, combined for 18 catches, 274 yards and two touchdowns. I mean, who are these guys? And that’s probably why Peyton easily won another MVP, really distancing himself from Brees. He worked his butt off with these two youngsters, making them household names in Indiana. Yes, he has Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, but those two took a backseat to the kids.
On the flip side, I do trust Brees. He is very resilient and smart at the controls. He rarely makes a dumb throw. But I sure didn’t like how shaky his receivers were down the stretch, when the game was on the line. They seemed to be juggling everything like they were feeling the pressure. I’m still not sure that instant replay did its job, that’s how shaky Robert Meachem’s last reception was.
The bottom line is that the Saints can’t play the Colts like they did the Vikings. Minnesota turned the ball over five times and fumbled three other times when it was fortunate to recover. The Vikings out-gained the Saints by 218 yards and should have won, right? Believe me, the Colts won’t put the ball on the ground like Minnesota did.
Without question, the Saints have a tremendous knack for forcing turnovers. They reach and grab at the ball at every opportunity. But, dang, they are a poor tackling team. Granted, the Colts don’t have a running back like Adrian Peterson who will scare them, but Indianapolis does have some sure-handed receivers who can overwhelm any secondary.
Part of me believes that the Favre magic expired late Sunday night. That was an awful interception he unleashed, throwing across his body and back across the field. A stupid 12-men-on-the-field penalty cost Minnesota five yards, making the line of scrimmage the 38-yard line. Knowing he wasn’t in gimme field-goal range, Favre decided to gamble. Instead, he should have just kept running straight ahead and taking whatever yards he could get before going out of bounds.
I think the beating, the pounding he took, finally robbed him of his senses. There was no reason to gamble like he did. He hadn’t done it all season. Sadly, I chalk it up to being 40 years old and sore and worrying too much about his place in football history. Peyton Manning is a lot younger than Favre and definitely not as desperate to grab the brass ring as Favre was against the Saints. Peyton is poise personified. Now, he wasn’t always this way. The Patriots made him look foolish quite a few times and more recently the Chargers simply could do no wrong against Dwight Freeney and his defensive friends.
I am going to assume that Saints coach Sean Payton, who has become something of a control freak with the media down the stretch, will open with the same strategy that the Jets did Sunday. He will establish his running game and try to work the clock while keeping Manning off the field, limiting his possessions. The plan may work, too. For a while.
Yes, you can run on the Colts — the whole football world knows that. But they are such a swarming defense. They are undersized and fast and quick and they run to the football just like Tony Dungy taught them. But what new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer has brought to the Colts is a blitz package that has made this team a tad more aggressive. It has paid dividends already and I think it will against the Saints, too.
New Orleans is caught up in the hype of getting there, and that’s fine. This city deserves to feel good and be happy. Life hasn’t been so grand in the Gulf Coast region.
But, unfortunately, the good story doesn’t always win in the end. The best team wins. And right now the Colts are the best team. They proved it all season, except when Bill Polian and rookie coach Jim Caldwell decided to bench the starters and rest for the playoffs. Otherwise, the Colts haven’t lost a game that really mattered all year long. They won’t lose the Super Bowl, either.