Unabated to the QB, The Super Bowl: This Was It

“This, to use an American term, in which discovery, retribution, torture, death, eternity appear in the shape of a regularly repulsive nutshell, was it.”

—Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Super Bowl XLIV had been what we expected and more: a first-class battle between two phenomenal quarterbacks coming down to the final four minutes. The only thing that seemed as if it could tarnish this great game was overtime, which is pretty ironic when you think about it.

The final four minutes were already being played out in my head. The Colts would score to tie the game, and the Saints would have a chance to win it late. I saw Garrett Hartley—unsung hero—missing a long field goal and the game going into extra time. I saw Indianapolis winning the coin toss, Manning driving the Colts down the field, and Matt Stover kicking an easy, championship-winning field goal. I saw riots on Bourbon Street about the unfairness of the NFL’s overtime, although I saw karmic retribution in how it worked: The Colts, losers in an OT playoff game last season without touching the ball, would beat the Saints, winners in an OT playoff game two weeks ago because the other team didn’t touch the ball.

I saw an off-season centered on the overtime debate (better than labor, I suppose), I saw Peyton Manning’s likeness being officially etched onto the Mount Rushmore of Quarterbacks (because I wasn’t ready to do that two weeks ago?), and I saw Drew Brees joining Kurt Warner in the pantheon of quarterbacks who lost Super Bowls despite playing incredibly well, and Brees’ career playing out in a nice, Dan Fouts-ish style.

I didn’t see Tracy Porter.

Neither did Peyton Manning.

I have long believed that the coolest feeling in football (and maybe sports) has to be jumping a slant or out route, intercepting the ball in stride, and knowing instantly that you are going to score a touchdown. Throw in that that interception basically wins the Super Bowl, and Tracy Porter probably experienced the coolest feeling in the history of the sport on Sunday night.

And let’s be clear: While it was a poor pass by Manning, it wasn’t all his fault, and it wasn’t in any way a choke. One, it was perfectly read by Porter, probably because Wayne had run the same route two plays earlier (I may be reading too much into this, but Austin Collie in the slot made his break for the slant much earlier than Wayne, so Porter may have been able to see what was coming easier. Maybe). Two, Wayne ran more of an in than a slant, just as he had two plays earlier. There were two key differences on this play. First, Porter gave Wayne 10 yards of cushion on the first-down play; by the time Wayne caught the ball, Porter was right there to make the tackle. On the third-down play, Porter gave only six yards of cushion. Those four yards are the difference between making a quick tackle and getting a pick-six. Second, Wayne’s cut was terrible. He stutter-stepped about eight times coming out of his break. Porter had already gotten a read on the play, but if Wayne makes a smooth cut—like the one he made two plays earlier—it’s probably just an incompletion. Is it a bad throw by Manning in a big spot? Of course. But the other factors were equally important.

Furthermore, that happened on 3rd-and-5. You know what else happened on 3rd-and-5? The Tyree catch. You know what else happened on 3rd-and-5? That crazy McNair play 10 years ago. I love 3rd-and-5s in the Super Bowl.

And now, an assortment of Super Bowl thoughts (with club sauce):

  • One thing that shouldn’t be lost amid everything else mentioned about Super Bowl XLIV: Drew Brees played probably the best game a quarterback has ever played in a Super Bowl. From the second quarter on, Brees was 29-of-32, and of those three incompletions, one was a spike and another a drop. There are some who will look at this Super Bowl and say that Peyton Manning—the purported greatest QB ever—was outplayed. Truth is, Drew Brees would have outplayed anyone on Sunday night.
  • What does this do to Manning’s legacy? Well, for one, it makes me feel better about picking Tom Brady over him as Football’s Athlete of the Aughts. Manning clearly is going to need to win another Super Bowl at least to be a serious part of the “Best QB Ever” conversation. And you know what? I think he will. I don’t think it will be next year, and I don’t think it will be with Jim Caldwell as his coach. But he’ll get it eventually.
  • One of the better feelings I had during the game was this: These really are the two best teams in the league, and they’re playing like it. (This, of course, was in the third quarter before the Colts made some crucial mistakes.) It’s been a while since you could really feel that way in a Super Bowl (Rams-Titans may be the last time I felt it).
  • I know I’ve been hard on Jim Caldwell most of the season, but that was one of the worst coaching performances in Super Bowl history. Caldwell made two huge mistakes in trying to run out the clock in the first half instead of being aggressive offensively (your quarterback is Peyton Manning: You can’t trust him on a 2:00 drill, even if it’s from the 10-yard line?) and in attempting a 51-yard field goal with a 42-year-old kicker who hadn’t made one from that distance since 2006.

By playing conservatively at the end of the first half, he essentially gave the Saints three points. It doesn’t matter if Caldwell didn’t think the Colts could drive down the field for a field goal in that amount of time; he has to realize that running the ball into the line and punting from inside your 15 is going to give New Orleans a great chance to score at least three in that scenario. But I guess this is what happens when you haven’t played a team with a good offense since Thanksgiving.

And everyone could tell you the Stover field goal was a mistake. There are kickers who expect to make 50-yard field goals, kickers who hope to make 50-yard field goals, and kickers who can’t make 50-yard field goals. Matt Stover is in the last group. The chances of Stover making that field goal were far lower than of the Colts converting that 4th-and-11, and you’re actually risking more in terms of field position for a lower reward. Rex Ryan made the same mistake with Jay Feely in the AFC title game to help swing momentum; Caldwell did the same. (And if I had a punter who wasn’t a rookie, I would have considered trying to pin them inside the five; but since the Colts have a rookie punter and Peyton Manning, I would totally have gone for it there.)

  • Compare Caldwell’s conservatism to Sean Payton’s aggressive game plan. Going for it inside the five with 2:00 to go in the first half was absolutely the right call. If you get it, tie game. If you don’t, it’s a lot harder for the Colts to drive down the field and add points. If you kick the field goal, the odds are that Indy answers with one of their own, and it’s 13-6 at halftime. And the onsides kick was awesome.
  • In simple terms, the Saints played to win; the Colts played not to lose. And the latter seems like a strategy passed down from on high in Indy.
  • The best thing the Saints defense did all night outside of the Tracy Porter interception? It let Joseph Addai run the ball. Whenever you play an offense as good as Indianapolis’, the goal is to limit the number of possessions in the game. The standard way of achieving this is by running the ball yourself and controlling the clock (see: Super Bowl XXV). But New Orleans has a good, quick-strike offense, too, and so it turned out the easiest way to slow the game down was for the Colts to keep running the ball. Indianapolis had only eight possessions in the game—the same number it had against the Dolphins when Miami controlled the ball for over 45 minutes. Dan Marino said it on CBS during halftime of the AFC Championship: Even if the Colts are running the ball well, anytime they decide to run, it’s a victory for the defense. It takes some time off the clock, and they’re not moving the ball as quickly downfield. (This idea is, of course, complicated by how good the Saints offense is, and you could argue that the Colts also wanted to limit the number of possessions for the New Orleans offense. But, I think it’s pretty clear that the more possessions there were in the game, the better chance the Colts would win. Indianapolis’ defense was going to stop New Orleans’ offense on a higher percentage of possessions than vice versa. If you disagree with this, why did Sean Payton try an onsides kick?)
  • Can we all agree that the Super Bowl commercial is no longer a legitimate art form?
  • Oddly enough, to me, there was very little suspense in the game. I felt all along that the Colts were going to win, even when they were down 13-10 or 24-17. I thought it might take overtime, but that Indianapolis would find a way to win. And then Manning threw the interception to Porter, and the game was over.
  • A couple of years ago, I made a list of the five greatest onsides kick moments in football history. The best was when Jeff Wilkins recovered his own onsides kick in a 2003 Divisional Playoff game for the Rams against the Panthers. I think, were I to make that list today, Thomas Morstead’s “Ambush” onsides kick would occupy all five slots. And how about that scrum?
  • Can we talk about Lance Moore’s catch? That was an amazing catch.
  • The team wearing white won the Super Bowl for the fifth straight year.
  • Pierre Thomas: 85 yards. Pierre Garcon: 66 yards. I got something right in my predictions.
  • That said, Pierre Garcon in 2010: 70+ receptions, 1200+ yards, 8+ TDs. How early is too early to grab him in my fantasy draft?
  • If we know one thing, it’s this: There’s absolutely NO way next year’s Super Bowl is gonna be any good. You can’t have back-to-back-to-back-to-back entertaining ones. Early prediction: Ravens 23, Packers 10.

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John S on February 9, 2010 at 6:33 PM

    Some thoughts:

    “The only thing that seemed as if it could tarnish this great game was overtime, which is pretty ironic when you think about it.” That pretty much says all you need to know about the NFL OT system, doesn’t it? Is there any other sport where you would think this? (And don’t even give me Pierre’s stupid system)

    I had not noticed the 3rd-and-5 connection until you pointed it out. This is getting eerie now.

    “Manning clearly is going to need to win another Super Bowl at least to be a serious part of the “Best QB Ever” conversation.” Not to rehash this, but why? Why is QB the only position that gets this kind of treatment? Are Jim Brown and Barry Sanders disqualified from best RB discussions because they never won Super Bowls (or championships)? Would Lawrence Taylor be any less good if Scott Norwood makes that field goal, and he was stuck with as many rings as Peyton? Does whoever the consensus best offensive tackle ever is have to deal with these questions? Football isn’t basketball, where one player can win by himself. Peyton Manning is great, and he’ll be part of the Best QB Ever conversation whether or not the Colts win another Super Bowl.

    Finally, I’m pretty sure it was Tom Morstead’s Ambush and not Garrett Hartley’s. Your picture probably should have been your first clue….


  2. Posted by Tim on February 9, 2010 at 8:19 PM

    Quarterbacks have to deal with the championship issue more so than any other position because they have a greater impact on the game. A great running back or wide receiver or left tackle can transform a team in the same way that a great quarterback can. Just look at Barry Sanders’ career. The bottom line is that a quarterback, like a goalie in hockey, has a better chance of dominating a game than a player at any other position. (LT, for instance, is so great because he could have that kind of impact as an outside linebacker.)

    Furthermore, I’m not saying Manning is a bad quarterback; it’s just that he won’t be perceived as the Best QB Ever if he only has one ring and other guys who had similar careers have more.

    And Jim Brown did win an NFL Championship in 1964.

    My bad on Hartley-Morstead. It’s been corrected. Quite the “rookie” mistake.


    • Posted by Josh on February 9, 2010 at 8:34 PM

      The problem with your argument, Tim, is that it assumes that QBs who win additional championships were transformative in the sense that it was THEIR domination that made them win the championship (or get to the championship and win the championship). But, it’s possible that QBs who didn’t win as many championships were actually more transformative and did more to get the team from where they would have been to where they are. The point is, just because a QB has more influence over the game than any other position doesn’t mean that championships won should be part of the standard: ideally, it would just be the difference between how the team would play without them (maybe with your median QB) and with them: Manning may only have one championship, but there’s little doubt that that difference is huge for him and I can’t see him being excluded from any best QB ever conversation.


  3. Posted by only dodgers' fan friend on February 9, 2010 at 10:04 PM

    you did get that one thing right. drew brees holding baylen was definitely the cutest super bowl moment ever.


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