MIAMI — New Orleans now has something bigger than Fat Tuesday. Super Sunday.
With coach Sean Payton making what will go down as one of the gutsiest calls in NFL postseason history, the Saints recovered an onside kick to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV, jump-starting a 31-17 come-from-behind victory over the Indianapolis Colts that allows Who Dat Nation to start Mardi Gras early.
Despite a field goal that got them within 10-6 at the end of the first half, the Saints were still stinging from a second-quarter failure on fourth-and-goal at the Indianapolis 1-yard line. Payton had punter Thomas Morstead, the Pearland native who also kicks off, to surprise the Colts with the onside kick that safety Chris Reis covered it at the Colts’ 42.
“We knew we were going to call it at some point,” Payton said. “I told them, ‘We’re going to open up the second half with this, and it’s going to be a great play.’ The guys handled it well.”
Morstead and his teammates were as surprised as the Colts, but they executed the onsides kick flawlessly.
“I wasn’t nervous; I was terrified,” Morstead said.
Running back Pierre Thomas finished the drive by taking a screen pass from Drew Brees 16 yards for a touchdown that helped the Saints outscore the favored Colts 25-7 in the second half.
“That onside kick changed the momentum,” Saints receiver Marques Colston said. “Our sideline was bouncing around after that.”
The Saints, who finished 16-3, became the first Super Bowl champion to win three playoff games after trailing by at least seven points in each of them.
“We came back, just like the people of New Orleans came back,” Brees said. “It’s a mentality that we’ve been through so much, but we’re going to come back even stronger, and that’s what we did.”
Brees, who was 32-of-39 for 288 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, compiled a 114.5 rating and was voted the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player Award.
“Our head coach is unbelievable,” Brees said. “Not only is he an offensive guru, but he’s an aggressive play caller, and that aggressiveness rubs off on us.”
Brees, who grew up in Austin, became the first quarterback from Texas to play in the Super Bowl. He finished the game with 10 consecutive completions.
“We won this for our fans,” Brees said. “They’ve fought through so much, and they’ve given us so much support, we owed it to them.”
Brees threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey in the fourth quarter and followed it with a two-point conversion pass to Lance Moore for a 24-17 lead with 5:42 left in the game.
Brees outplayed Peyton Manning, who was 31-of-45 for 33 yards and one touchdown. He was intercepted once, and what an interception it was.
The Colts were trying to score to force overtime when they faced a third-and-5 situation at the New Orleans 35. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams called for a blitz.
Porter stepped in front of Reggie Wayne, intercepted the pass and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown that elevated the lead to 31-17.
“They did a good job of guessing,” Wayne said. “He caught it and put us in panic mode.”
The 14-point deficit was too much for Manning to overcome.
“Peyton’s a great quarterback, and we didn’t want the game to come down to the end with him having the ball in his hands,” Shockey said. “Fortunately, Tracy made a great play to give us something breathing room.”
When the Colts got the ball back for the last time, they needed to score a touchdown and then hope they could cover an onsides kick and go for another touchdown to force overtime.
Manning took them to the New Orleans 5, but his fourth-down pass was broken up to secure the victory.
“We probably never got into a great rhythm,” Manning said. “We made it real tough on ourselves.”
The Colts made it look easy in the first quarter. Matt Stover finished the first drive with a 38-yard field goal. Manning threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon to end the second drive — a 96-yarder that tied a Super Bowl record.
Kicker Garrett Hartley kept the Saints close with field goals of 46 and 44 yards.
In the third quarter, the Colts recovered from the shock of the onsides kick and falling behind for the first time to regain the lead. Running back Joseph Addai made a great 4-yard touchdown run in which he broke two tackles to put the Colts back in front, 17-13.
After that, nothing went right for Indianapolis.
“This isn’t the way you want to end your season,” said tight end Dallas Clark, who had seven catches for 86 yards. “It’s miserable.
“We put ourselves in a position where we had to come from behind. We felt confident in that situation, but we didn’t make enough good plays, and the Saints did.”