A perfect word to describe the onside-kick to begin the second half. Yes, it was New Orleans head coach Sean Payton’s name for the play, but it summed up the game.
It was almost as if the first quarter was a set-up for the rest of the game. Indianapolis moves the ball efficiently to gain a ten-point lead. Colts QB Peyton Manning is feeling good about himself and the team’s chances.
And then…AMBUSH! Saints begin to move the ball and control the clock. Sure, they only had two field goals to show for it going into halftime. But then…
The onside-kick, and really the Saints’ special teams play overall, epitomized the game overall. It is not as though Colts head coach Jim Caldwell had a poor game plan, although I do question the abandonment of the run (Joseph Addai had 79 yards on ten carries midway through the third quarter; he ended with 13 carries for 77 yards!). But Payton took more chances, played “to win the game,” and comparatively speaking outcoached his counterpart.
But the special teams really came through, starting with punter Thomas Morstead. Not only did he execute “Ambush,” but the SMU grad’s two punts were returned for zero yards, with the second downed on the four. Yes, Manning and the Colts took the ball 96 yards for a touchdown, but still that was no fault of Morstead.
As for the onside kick, the rookie Morstead executed it to perfection. Not only did it give the Saints the ball to start the second half, but it likely disrupted the Colts’ game plan. I am sure Manning, Caldwell and the Colts offense had the schemes set up to open the second half. But with the onside recovery, the entire game plan changed because Drew Brees drove the Saints downfield to take their first lead of the game.
And credit to reserve safety Chris Reis. The special teamer was the one who recovered the kick. I am sure it was a battle for his life at the bottom of the scrum, but held on to the ball and helped the gamble pay off.
Then, kicker Garrett Hartley nailed three field goals, all of distances greater than 40 yards. His 47-yarder [third kick of the game] was a season-long and tied his career long.
It was a sweet end to Hartley’s season, which began by being suspended four games under the NFL’s banned substance policy. He then did not regain his starting role until week 12.
Things became worse when Hartley missed a potential game-winning field goal against the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a bizarre play because most of the hometown Saints fans, including team owner Tom Benson, thought it was going to be good and began celebrating before realizing that the kick sailed wide.
The Bucs, who had tied the game late in the fourth on a Michael Spurlock punt return (kicked, of course, by Morstead), would go on to win the game and lead many people to question whether or not the Saints were for real.
But the Saints proved that they are for real and that this is not a “dream” season. It is a reality. And New Orleans can point to Super Bowl XLIV and show that they won all three facets of the game — offense, defense and special teams.
If you recall the NFC Championship Game, there was some doubt as to how reliable Hartley, a second-year kicker out of Oklahoma and who had a rocky season, would be in a game-winning situation. Obviously, he proved he could be called upon in clutch situations as he nailed the 40-yarder to send the Saints to Miami.
For Hartley, it was sweet way to end the season. Sure, it was not a game-winning kick on the biggest stage in professional football, but three 40-yarders (a Super Bowl record, by the way) is still impressive.
So, no disrespect to Super Bowl MVP Brees or corner back Tracy Porter, who picked off Manning and took it back for the score. The offense and defense for the Saints came up big.
But gives some credit to the special teams. They played a big part in making this Super Bowl, well, special.