- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- Cue it again.
Boy, the Colts sure are good in the regular season, but when it comes to collecting rings …
A team that made a season out of fourth-quarter comebacks couldn’t find one Sunday night, and when it came to explaining Tracy Porter's game-sealing 74-yard interception return with 3:12 left, the Colts didn’t have a lot to say.
"Porter made a great play on the ball," Manning said not long after New Orleans’ 31-17 Super Bowl XLIV was in the books and red and silver confetti littered the Sun Life Stadium floor. "He made a good break on it. And he just made a heck of a play.”
"He jumped the route," said Reggie Wayne, the intended receiver. “He did a good job jumping the route.”
The quarterback and receiver both treaded lightly, not wanting to cast blame about what went wrong on a play Manning said they’ve run quite a bit. The throw was a bit off, or the route was, or both. And while we want to dissect it precisely, they weren’t interested parties.
Brett Favre threw an interception that hurt the Vikings' shot in the NFC title game in New Orleans. Like Manning, he owns a 1-1 record in the Super Bowl. I expect, though, that while Favre keeps people’s attention cast as a rugged gunslinger, Manning will get a new round of holes punched in his résumé for being a cerebral signal-caller with just a .500 playoff record.
A win would have done a lot for those wanting to crown him the best of all time. A loss led to a classification in much more terrestrial terms.
“I don’t think it dents him,” Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. “He’s one of the top three quarterbacks in the league right now. Would he like to have that throw back? Of course. But every quarterback would like to have his interceptions back.
“I don’t think it really does anything to his legacy. He’s still going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback. And if he wins another, he’ll probably be the best quarterback to ever play the game.”
Indianapolis’ Jim Caldwell, the rookie coach who guided an improbably successful season, shared the sentiment.
“I don’t think it will have any bearing on his legacy,” he said. “Obviously, he’s a great player. It never comes down to just one single play in a game. There are a lot of different things that could have happened in that game that could have put us in a different position. He’s still a great player, and outstanding performer, a great competitor. And that doesn’t diminish it at all.”
Even the most confident Saints had to think that Manning could tie the score quickly after Jeremy Shockey caught a 2-yard touchdown pass and Lance Moore added a two-point conversion to put the Saints up 24-17 with 5:42 on the clock: That’s a lot of time for that quarterback and that offense.
Manning and the Colts regularly march the field in less. Their 11-play, 96-yard drive in the first quarter matched the 1985 Bears for the longest touchdown drive in Super Bowl history, and that one took just 4:36.
The way they played in a 14-2 season made them believe they would simply do it again. The worst that could happen was overtime.
With no huddle and out of the shotgun, Manning moved them 39 yards before the fateful third-and-5, which followed a timeout.
Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said Porter trusted the play, knew the rush up the middle wouldn’t allow Manning the time to beat him deep, allowing him to make the read and jump the pass.
“I felt that was the route they were going to run,” Williams said. “Tracy knew that was the route they were going to run.”
And so with a chance to bolster his legacy, Manning and his Colts instead watched Drew Brees build his. Instead of joining Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger as multiple Super Bowl winners, Manning was joined by Brees in a club of quarterbacks with one.
Brees posted the second-best completion percentage in Super Bowl history as the Saints’ 10-point comeback matched the largest deficit overcome to win the ultimate game.
“Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are two of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League, and the people tonight got their money’s worth watching two great warrior quarterbacks play,” Williams said. “We were able to come up with a play, but he made plays also.
“We were able to hit him, we were able to hurry him, we were able to move him off his spot. He was still making plays. We made one play right there that was the difference in the ballgame. I’m sure he’d like to have that one back. But I’m happy we made it.”