Peyton Manning won the regular season NFL MVP. Drew Brees won the Super Bowl MVP.
The Saints' slow start featured a game-opening three-and-out drive, followed by a six-play drive that also resulted in a punt. The Colts built a 10-0 lead in their first two drives, connecting on a short field goal after the Saints' defense held, but then Manning victimized backup CB Usama Young for a touchdown pass to WR Pierre Garcon.
Brees led the team to two second quarter field goals, both connected from long distance by Garrett Hartley. The Saints had a shot at three second quarter scores, but a tough Colts defense won a battle at the goal line.
After the Saints forced a Colts three-and-out in the middle of the second quarter, they moved from their own 28 yard line to the Colt three yard line on the strength of a 13 yard strike to Colston and a 21 yard catch, juke dazzle and dash by WR Lance Moore. Moore made the most of two of his three Superbowl touches, with that remarkable gainer on third and two and a later catch that will go down as one of the most acrobatic in Super Bowl history.
But that drive which reached first and goal at the Colt three yard line with 3:42 left in the half would be hard fought. Brees on a quick pass to Moore got no yardage, and on second down Zach Strief was called for a false start. Strief received lots of playing time in the Super Bowl as a sixth lineman, often going in motion. It was a novel usage of the Saints' deep offensive line corps on display tonight, especially when the Saints went with a six linemen, four receiver formation.
On second down and eight, Pierre Thomas zipped around right tackle for seven yards down inside the Colt one yard line, setting up third and inches. The call was to Mike Bell off right tackle, but Bell slipped on the slick natural turf and was dropped at the one yard line. On fourth down, just inside the two minute warning, the Saints went for it again. Payton dialed up the third straight run off right tackle and Thomas was bowled over and stopped short of the goal line.
Taking over at their own one yard line, the Colts moved within inches of the first down marker but the Saints defense had a big stand of their own, holding upback Mike Hart to no gain on third and inches. The Colts punted to Reggie Bush at midfield.
Brees, with :35 left, closed the distance necessary for Hartley's second field goal with a strike over the middle to Devery Henderson for 19 yards. Hartley's 44 yard kick pulled the Saints to within four points.
A 10-6 halftime lead for the Colts looked steady enough, especially since the Colts would receive the second half opening kickoff.
Or would they?
Out of a conventional kickoff formation, rookie punter Thomas Morstead's gorgeous onside kick across his body was recovered at the bottom of a very large pile by special teamer Chris Reis, a huge play for one of the top special teams cover men in the league.
It was the first onside kick attempt outside the fourth quarter in Super Bowl history, and one of the more courageous calls in the game's long history as well. It was set up by the Saints' winning the opening toss and electing to receive.
With all the momentum, Brees jumped on the Colts defense with four straight completions, then a seven-yard run up the middle by Pierre Thomas moved the Saints within the Colts red zone.
A signature screen pass from Brees to Pierre Thomas had a familiar result- a patiently rumbling Thomas evaded five different Colts defenders and ran away from the rest of them.
That Thomas touchdown was eerily similar to his screen pass rumble touchdown against Minnesota, and was perfected throughout the regular season. It was deployed by Payton masterfully and executed by downfield blockers perfectly.
But that 13-10 lead would be short-lived. The Colts stole back the momentum with a ten play, 76-yard drive that featured five first down conversions and eventually a touchdown run by former LSU product Joseph Addai with 6:15 left in the third quarter. Stover's extra point would prove to be the Colts' final scoring.
It wouldn't have been believed to have predicted that the Saints would shut the Colts out in the remaining 21:15 of game time left. But Gregg Williams' scheme, which saw the Saints start the game in a 3-4 and play most of the time in 3-4 or 3-3-5 formations, would do just that.
The Saints fought to within one point when Hartley hit his third clutch field goal from 47 yards out four minutes later, and the teams went into the fourth quarter with the Colts holding a slim lead. On that drive, Brees threw incomplete to Reggie Bush in the left flat, a fastball deflecting out of Bush's hands with 4:49 left in the third quarter. That would be the last incompletion of Brees' night.
The fourth quarter, as was the second quarter, would be owned by New Orleans.
The Colts moved to the Saint 32 in the beginning of the fourth quarter, and with a first and ten rushed two yards to the 30. But the Saints then dropped an Austin Collie dump-off pass for a three yard loss, and on one of the game's few deep down field passes, Jonathan Vilma went up high to disrupt a would-be touchdown to Collie, setting up 4th and 11.
Matt Stover, the Colts' kicker and the oldest player to ever play in a Super Bowl, attempted and hooked left a 51 yard field goal that awarded Brees the ball at his own 41. It appeared the kick was outside of the aging Stover's range, while the Colts had deactivated a healthy Adam Vinatieri.
Still down by one point, the Saints then went on the most significant drive in franchise history with 10:39 left in the season.
Reggie Bush ripped off a 12-yard run to start the drive, moving the Saints into Colts territory. Brees went after the Colts with an unstoppable short passing game, hitting his backs and receivers for gains of 5, 6, 8, 8, 6, and 9 yards, moving the Saints with a long, time-consuming drive to the Colts five yard line. Pierre Thomas got down to the two with a run off right tackle, and then Brees drilled the ball into Jeremy Shockey's chest for the go-ahead touchdown.
Shockey lined up wide right and stabbed inside of his coverage, presenting Brees a perfect target for a left-side throw and touchdown, a undefendable play. Up five points, the Saints went for the two point conversion that saw Lance Moore make an unbelievable play with the ball.
With trips receivers to the right and Reggie Bush in the backfield, Brees rolled right with protection and hit Moore running parallel to the goal line. Moore's feet in the end zone and falling down, he caught the ball in the field of play and rolled on his side and the back of his neck as he extended the ball in front of him, inverted, over the goal line.
It took two impacts from Jacob Lacey's legs to jar the ball free as the limber Moore was pretzeled, legs flying high. While a side judge eyeballing the play ruled it incomplete, a Sean Payton challenge and initiated a replay review that reversed the call and put the Saints up by seven points, 24-17. That eight point drive took 4:57 off the clock in the fourth quarter.
Peyton Manning, a New Orleans native and son of Archie, is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. But in the fourth quarter, the Saints defense rose above Manning's team-on-shoulders effort.
With 5:42 left, Manning began his deadly fourth quarter bombardment of the Saints, just as he had begun so many other fourth quarter comebacks and game-sealing drives this season. But he hadn't faced a defense so good at creating turnovers, and while only one turnover was created in Super Bowl XLIV, it was a game-sealer.
Manning hit on four of six passes to move his team from their own 30 to the Saints' 31 in roughly two minutes, but that seventh pass attempt was read by Tracy Porter, who stepped in front of Reggie Wayne, caught the ball and was streaking down the right hashmarks in one fluid motion.
Porter picked up a key block from RDE Will Smith and zipped free for the game-clinching score from 74 yards out. The Port Allen, La. native Porter picked Vikings QB Brett Favre and Manning in successive fourth quarters, but his interception of Manning will likely be the play to remember of Super Bowl XLIV.
With 3:05 left, Manning was down 14 and not without hope. He moved his team from their own 14 to the Saints' 3 yard line with eight straight passes. That yardage included a 40-yard strike to Collie, an unnecessary roughness penalty on DT Anthony Hargrove that gave the Colts a first down, and an offensive pass interference call on Garcon that prevented Saints CB Jabari Greer from intercepting Manning along the side of the end zone.
Manning had six snaps inside the Saint 13 yard line but couldn't punch it in. That included a second down pass which Scott Shanle got a palm on to deflect high and off the cross bars, a third down run to the right by Addai that Sedrick Ellis and Hargrove stopped for a two yard loss, and a fourth down incompletion that was in and out of Reggie Wayne's hands over the middle.
It was a titanic defensive victory by Gregg Williams and his tried-in-fire Saints defense over Manning, the author of five fourth quarter comeback victories in 2009 and the AP NFL MVP.
To seal Super Bowl XLIV, Drew Brees kneeled off the final :44 seconds of the clock.