NFL Nation: Super Bowl 44

Sean PaytonSteve Mitchell/US PresswireThe usually guarded Sean Payton pulls back the curtain on the Saints' 2009 season in a new book.
You know the story already. Now, Sean Payton’s filling in the details.

The coach of the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints has written a book that is scheduled to hit stores Tuesday. It is called “Home Team." The subtitle is “Coaching the Saints and New Orleans back to life."

That last line sums up the book in one sentence. But I recommend you read the book even if you’re a Saints fan and think you already know all about the Super Bowl season and the three seasons that preceded that. If you do, you’ll find out a lot of things you didn’t know.

We’re not talking any headline-grabbing revelations here, because there aren’t any. The big picture has played out very publicly. What Payton is doing with co-author Ellis Henican is coloring in the outline that already was sketched.

Like just about all football coaches, Payton runs a tight ship. When addressing the media, he’s generally guarded with what he shares, especially about the inner-workings of his team. That’s why this book is a rare opportunity to see what really has gone on with the Saints since Payton first interviewed for the job in 2006.

Payton’s playing by different rules in this book and, in a lot of ways, opening the locker room doors and his mind for fans to really see how the Saints went from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to the top of the football world. Written entirely in Payton’s voice, the book chronicles just about everything, from Payton’s first flight into New Orleans right up through the post-Super Bowl celebration.

Like I said, there’s nothing that’s going to grab a headline or really shock you. But there are a few significant confessions that haven’t been public knowledge.

Start with the daring onside kick to start the second half of the Super Bowl. That decision has brought Payton acclaim for making one of the boldest moves in Super Bowl history. Well, truth be told, Payton reveals the onside kick was not initially the surprise play Payton wanted to run.

Greg McMahon
AP Photo/Bill HaberPayton's new book reveals it was special-teams coach Greg McMahon who suggested the Saints use an onside kick in the Super Bowl.
In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, Payton said he wanted to steal a possession from Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts and his first thought was to run a fake punt. He floated the idea by his coaching staff for several days and word trickled down to the players. Veteran long-snapper Jason Kyle finally went to Payton and delicately suggested the fake punt might not be a great idea.

“They didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear," Payton said. “They told me what I needed to hear."

Payton backed off the idea and special-teams coach Greg McMahon offered a counterproposal. That was the onside kick. Payton grabbed onto that and it worked masterfully.

There’s also a little revelation about why the Saints were so late in showing up for media day on Tuesday of Super Bowl week. Payton said that five players -- Tracy Porter, Bobby McCray, Roman Harper, Usama Young and Jermon Bushrod -- missed the team bus that morning. After each of the players made it to the locker room on their own, Payton shut the door and began blistering his team.

“I can smell a team that looks like they’re just happy to be in the Super Bowl," Payton said he told his team. “You guys reek of that team."

The Saints quickly stopped reeking and you already know how they went out and won the Super Bowl. Payton shares the details of the postgame joy and how he virtually had to be dragged to the morning-after news conference.

(Read full post)

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 3, 2010
3/03/10
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» NFC Schemes/Themes: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Schemes and themes.

Houston Texans

Alex Gibbs is gone, but offensive line coach John Benton learned from the master and the Texans are expected to continue to rely largely on the zone blocking run scheme Gibbs installed. That means the interior offensive lineman the Texans bring in to compete for a starting spot will be a smaller, more agile type, not a super-heavyweight bruiser. The bigger running back they seek to run behind that line needs to be a one-cut-and-go guy, not a dancer. If the Texans draft a back, look for them to go for a bigger guy who can get a tough yard and fare better in goal-line situations.

Indianapolis Colts

Speed and agility are always at more of a premium than size for the Colts, though they welcome all of those when they can get them. It would seem they would look to add at least one offensive tackle who’s a sure pass-protector but can also help spring a running back like Joseph Addai around the corner with some consistency. Another Colts' tenet is that a steady, threatening pass rush is a crucial component and it’s likely time to upgrade end No. 3 and groom the next Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Head coach Jack Del Rio says quarterback David Garrard is good, but not elite, and that’s perfectly true. For him to lead the Jaguars to the playoffs, he needs to be surrounded by a quality cast that plays close to error-free. So look for second-year general manager Gene Smith to try to mirror his first draft that brought in quality players who had no character questions. Many members of his first draft class were team captains in college, a leadership trademark the team would like to continue to add to its roster. They dabbled with a 3-4 last season, but are back to a 4-3 and need a high motor, consistent pass-rusher more than anything.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans don’t prefer to blitz, but when their front four doesn’t generate sufficient heat they either have to bring extra people or suffer the consequences. Defensive linemen in Tennessee are asked to stop the run on the way to the quarterback. A defensive end who can be disruptive as a rusher is a priority for a team coming off a mediocre pass-pressure season and looking at a youth movement. They’ll be looking at cornerbacks, too. Just as they expect their wide receivers to be a force in the rushing offense, they expect their corners to be big parts of the run defense on the perimeter. They won’t draft a guy afraid to nose in on tackles.

Next for Colts: Offensive line work

February, 9, 2010
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When the Colts were ousted from the 2008 playoffs, their inability to convert a third-and-short was the root cause. Had they converted it in San Diego, they could have iced the game and advanced.

[+] EnlargeMike Hart
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyFormer Michigan RB Mike Hart, here playing in the Super Bowl for the Colts, reached a point where he felt he was playing just for a check.
Super Bowl XLIV included a similar play, though not at such a crucial or obvious time.

Superb in the last two minutes of the first half all season, the Colts went a little conservative -- uncharacteristically -- on Sunday night.

On a third-and-1 from their own 10-yard line, they ran Mike Hart up the middle for no gain and punted. The Saints managed a field goal before the half, cutting Indy’s lead at intermission to 10-6.

Bill Polian ranked the failed run conversion with the onside kick as the moments that turned the game.

"The onside kick was the turning point, and along with that, not being able to get a yard on third-and-1 is what really cost us. Polian told Peter King. "Those were two plays in our control, and we didn't make them. Today, they were the better team. They deserved to win.''

Two years, two third-and-shorts, two failed conversions.

This leads to a somewhat obvious conclusion:

As the Howard Mudd era ends, the Colts need to rethink their offensive line approach as Pete Metzelaars takes over as the line coach. Smart pass protectors will still be at a premium, but there needs to be more physical play, particularly on the edges. Charlie Johnson did admirable work as the left tackle once the team gave up on Tony Ugoh, and Ryan Diem is a solid guy and quality player at right tackle, but could the Colts upgrade?

The need to draft offensive linemen, allow for training camp competition and be better at the run efficiency they like to talk about. Joseph Addai showed in the Super Bowl he can still run quite well. Donald Brown is promising.

In 2010, when the Colts face the crucial third-and-short, they’ve got to convert it.

Brady still ahead of Manning in QB debate

February, 8, 2010
2/08/10
12:28
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Getty ImagesColts quarterback Peyton Manning, with a loss in Super Bowl XLIV, is now 9-9 in the postseason while his New England counterpart, Tom Brady, is 14-4.
MIAMI -- The way Tom Brady's season ended was catastrophic. The New England Patriots' season turned to cinders with an ugly, first-round playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and Brady could be blamed for much of it. He looked no better than Hugh Millen.

Peyton Manning, meanwhile, evolved this season into the prototypical virtuoso, the symbol of great quarterbacking. Because the Indianapolis Colts removed him from both losses, it could be argued he didn't lose a game all year.

Manning was so sensational and Brady shaky enough at the start (while getting used to his rebuilt knee) and at the end (looking lost without Wes Welker and throwing three interceptions), the debate over the greatest quarterback of this generation -- perhaps of all-time -- had swung decisively in Manning's favor. He was better than Brady.

Until Sunday night.

Manning's legacy was tarnished in Super Bowl XLIV.

Late in the fourth quarter, he threw an interception New Orleans Saints cornerback Tracy Porter returned 74 yards for a backbreaking touchdown, the type of costly mistake Brady has avoided on the big stage. Manning also panicked in the final moments when the Colts had a shot to score and at least try an onside kick.

Manning's postseason record is 9-9, with 28 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He is 1-1 in Super Bowls.

Brady's postseason record is 14-4, with 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He has three Super Bowl rings.

Of course, the Patriots also lost a Super Bowl in which they were favored, failing to achieve perfection in 2007. But it wasn't Brady's fault. The New York Giants pulled off one of the great upsets in NFL history with Brady on the sidelines. He conducted a touchdown drive to give the Patriots a fourth-quarter lead then helplessly watched it disappear.

In the Super Bowl, Brady always rose to the occasion.

Manning failed to deliver Sunday night. The memory of Porter prancing into the end zone will last a long time.

"He had an opportunity to be in a Super Bowl; he doesn't win it," ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said. "Now, he looks human. He's not going to be able to go undefeated in Super Bowls, and certainly when you compare him to some of the all-time greats he doesn't have as many rings.

"No matter how many records he has or what the stats say or however he plays in the regular season, when you match up his postseason accomplishments against quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Joe Montana, it doesn't stack up."video
MIAMI -- On the very first question of his Monday news conference, not even 12 hours after his team had won Super Bowl XLIV, Sean Payton suddenly had to face the future.

He was asked about how the Saints would respond to the challenge of following up a championship season, a challenge that’s been difficult for most recent winners. Payton would have been well within his rights to say something like, “Please, let us enjoy this for at least a day.’’

Payton
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesSean Payton and the Saints know they'll have a target on their backs next season.
But he didn’t. He made mention of the fact the Saints have a young team and a steady Drew Brees, who now officially has joined, if not surpassed, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the list of the game’s elite quarterbacks. That’s a good start right there, but history hasn’t always been kind to teams that finish at the top of the NFL when they come back for the next season.

Especially teams that finish at the top of the NFC South. Prior to the Saints, the NFC South has had two Super Bowl teams. The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers won it and the 2003 Carolina Panthers lost it. Neither came close to even getting to the game the next season.

Repeat champions are rare in NFL history. They’re non-existent in the NFC South. Since the division came into existence in 2002, no team has been able to win it in back-to-back seasons. In fact, the general trend is for the last place team to win it the next season and fall off greatly the season after that.

Keep in mind, the Saints finished fourth in the NFC South last season. Should the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who went 3-13 this season, be waiting for the crown? Probably not. But anything can happen in the NFC South.

The Saints are very good, maybe great. Payton’s right when he points to Brees as the first reason this team can be good for the long haul. Then you look at other young core players like Jonathan Vilma, Tracy Porter, Sedrick Ellis, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and Jahri Evans.

It’s hard to picture the Saints just crumbling next season. But it’s not all that hard to picture them being challenged in the NFC South. The Saints are going to carry the target that comes with winning a Super Bowl and that means they’ll get the best from opponents every week.

And it’s not like the rest of the NFC South is weak. The Falcons and Panthers both slipped a bit this season after making the playoffs last season. But you can look at Atlanta and Carolina and see strong cores that can be something special if injuries don’t get in the way again.

Carolina’s got the best running back tandem in the league in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, a monster of a receiver in Steve Smith and a defense led by Jon Beason. If coach John Fox can just find a quarterback, the Panthers could be a big factor.

The Falcons have a quarterback in Matt Ryan and big-time targets in Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. They remind me a bit of the 2008 Saints -- all offense and not enough defense. You can bet that the Falcons are going to work to improve that defense in 2010. If the Falcons can improve half as much on defense as this season’s Saints, anything becomes possible.

Then there are the Buccaneers. Yeah, they look horrible on paper. But they seem to have found something good in rookie quarterback Josh Freeman. They’ve got 10 draft picks to help improve Freeman’s supporting cast. Even in their current state, the Buccaneers don’t look as bad as the Falcons did after the 2007 season and the Falcons went to the playoffs in 2008.

Anything can -- and does -- happen in the NFC South. Let’s let the Saints enjoy their championship for a bit. But even the Saints have to realize they can’t sit still for long.

They were great this season. But if they don’t work really hard to protect that, there are three other NFC South teams waiting to try to take their place.

Saints make Colts look unprepared

February, 8, 2010
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SaintsAP Photo/Chuck BurtonDefensive end Anthony Hargrove (left) and Malcolm Jenkins celebrate after the Saints recover an onside kick at the start of the third quarter.
MIAMI -- Reggie Wayne couldn't bring himself to admit he admired Sean Payton's intrepid call for an onside kick to open the second half of Super Bowl XLIV.

"I'm the one that's over here with my lip puffed out," Wayne said Sunday night in a tent outside Sun Life Stadium. "So apparently it was a good call."

Wayne and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts' offense were left standing on the sideline when the New Orleans Saints pulled off the big gamble.

Experience was supposed to be the difference-maker for the Colts. They'd been on this grand stage before. The Saints had not.

Yet, the Colts were caught unprepared.

The Saints recovered the kick and, six plays later, established themselves as an underdog on paper only. The Saints went on to win 31-17, and leave the Colts wondering about all the plays that got away.

"I didn't see it coming," Colts right tackle Ryan Diem said. "At that point in the game, I didn't expect them to do anything like that. The element of surprise got us."

Indianapolis was eager to get the ball first after halftime.

Peyton Manning directed the Colts' offense with his usual meticulousness in the first quarter. First possession: 11 plays, 53 yards, field goal. Second possession: 11 plays, 96 yards, touchdown.

Then came the second quarter. The Colts short-circuited, experiencing their first lamentable play. On third-and-4 from their 28-yard line, Manning zipped a short pass to Pierre Garcon. The play should have gone for a big gain, but Garcon dropped the ball.

"I seen it late, but I should've made the catch," Garcon said. "It was a great throw by Peyton. It should've been caught.

"It could've made the difference in the game."

Instead, the Colts were forced to punt for the first time. In the second quarter, they ran only six plays -- the second three-and-out series simply running out the clock. They gained 15 yards. They maintained possession for 2:34.

Still, the Colts seemed to be in control. They snuffed Saints running back Pierre Thomas on a fourth-and-goal run play that looked like it would doom Payton to a lifetime of second-guessing in New Orleans.

The double-team tackle by Colts linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session was the type of stop that championship teams make.

"The goal-line stand was big," Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said, "but you've got to play the rest of the game."

They led the Saints by four points at the extended Super Bowl intermission, and as Pete Townshend churned windmills on his guitar, the Colts strategized to bust the game open.

"In the locker room, we just talked about getting the ball back and going down and scoring some points and putting them in a hole," Wayne said.

The Saints concocted a plan to chop the Colts off at the knees. Thomas Morstead, who handles their kickoffs, was given the onside green light.

"Thomas came up and told me that we were running 'Ambush,' " field-goal kicker Garrett Hartley said. "To start off the second half of the Super Bowl, nothing like it. It's a gut shot, and it worked out in our favor."

Six plays later, Saints quarterback Drew Brees connected with Thomas on a 16-yard pass to give them a 13-10 lead.

"Every possession felt precious out there," Manning said.

The Colts did recover, mounting a typical 10-play, 76-yard drive to retake the lead on their next series.

But the tone had been set. The Saints were willing to trade shots all night, to get aggressive.

The Colts buckled.

"The Saints got some momentum there at the end of the first half and beginning of the third quarter and kind of kept the momentum from there," Manning said. "I thought we just didn't play well enough at certain times."

Indianapolis was outfoxed and outplayed by a team that hadn't been there, done that.

Pick, loss hurt Manning's legacy

February, 8, 2010
2/08/10
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Peyton ManningJed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning threw for 333 yards and a score, but also committed the only turnover of the game.
MIAMI -- Cue it again.

All the talk about Peyton Manning's failures in the clutch, all the comparisons of the Indianapolis Colts to the Atlanta Braves.

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.”

Video: City of New Orleans reacts to title

February, 7, 2010
2/07/10
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video
Rachel Nichols reports on the celebration in New Orleans following the Saints' 31-17 victory in Super Bowl XLIV.

Photoblog: No gain

February, 7, 2010
2/07/10
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ColtsAP Photo/Chuck BurtonSaints wide receiver Courtney Roby tackles Colts safety T.J. Rushing on a punt return in the first half.

Colts inactives: No surprises

February, 7, 2010
2/07/10
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Inactives are out and the Colts include no surprises:


So much for Cloherty's long shot MVP hopes we examined here.
MIAMI -- Already, there’s an NFC South flavor to the Super Bowl and we’re not even talking about the New Orleans Saints yet.

One thing I’ve tried to do this week is give you a bit of a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how things work at the biggest show in sports. The Saints may be the only NFC South team playing in this game, but the other three franchises have people working the game.

Just a few minutes ago, I had the opportunity to run into Charlie Dayton, the dean of NFC South public relations directors, and several branches of his version of the Bill Walsh coaching tree. Dayton, who has been with the Carolina Panthers since before they played their first time, spent a little time catching up with me and Ted Crews, who, as best anyone can figure, is the only P.R. director to endure two 1-15 seasons.

Crews joined the St. Louis Rams as the main man last season after spending his career with the Panthers and Falcons. Crews said the Rams’ season wasn’t nearly as miserable as the 1-15 season the Panthers endured under George Seifert in 2001. In that season, there was no hope for Carolina fans and a coaching legend fell apart. At least the Rams are young and have room to grow.

Also in the media room is DeeDee Mills, who has worked for the Panthers since the start. She, Dayton and Crews will be helping the media throughout the day and night. The Atlanta Falcons also have Brian Cearns here and I’ve seen an intern from the Buccaneers helping out.

There’s another behind-the-scenes NFL connection to this game: That’s Carolina’s Brandon Beane, who basically handles all travel and logistical issues for the Panthers. Beane was brought in by the league to help out with logistics throughout the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl.

Some other NFC South dignitaries I've run into throughout the week include Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer, current ESPN broadcaster and former Carolina and Tampa Bay receiver Keyshawn Johnson and current ESPN broadcaster and former Tampa Bay quarterback Trent Dilfer. Atlanta coach and Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff also have been making the rounds.

Wind could be a factor

February, 7, 2010
2/07/10
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MIAMI -- There is a pretty good breeze at Sun Life Stadium.

The flags I see ringing the stadium are flapping pretty good, as are the ones atop the four goalposts.

We’ve got a good while until kickoff, but I think it could be a factor for Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

Weather Underground says the wind is 15 mph with gusts up to 24.

Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire playing right now on the stadium loudspeakers. Makes me feel at home. Shoutout to the boys from just outside Nashville.
MIAMI -- Let’s go ahead and consider this an omen for the Super Bowl. Times really have changed for the New Orleans Saints.

[+] EnlargeRickey Jackson
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRickey Jackson compiled 128 sacks over his 15 seasons in the NFL.
Rickey Jackson has been selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That announcement came moments ago and it’s another sign that a franchise that has spent most of its existence as loveable losers no longer fits that image. The day before the Saints play in their first Super Bowl, they’ve got their first Hall of Famer.

Coincidence?

Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know exactly what was on the minds of voters. But the fact is Jackson never had even made it to finalist stage before this year. The fact that "Who Dat Nation" suddenly became more than a regional thing might have had some sort of subconscious impact on the voters and it certainly increased Jackson’s visibility.

But the fact is Jackson has deserved this honor for a long time. He was part of the famed “Dome Patrol’’ of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Before this magical season, the Saints of Jackson’s era were the only truly proud time in franchise history. That era’s finally getting the recognition it deserves.

Maybe this won’t be the only truly memorable event of the weekend for the Saints and their fans.

Colts Saturday practice report

February, 6, 2010
2/06/10
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The Colts' official pool report on practice, filed by Charles Robinson on behalf of the Pro Football Writers Association:

DAVIE, Fla. -- Not a great deal changed in the health department for the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, as the team held its final practice of the week before Super Bowl XLIV. Defensive end Dwight Freeney sat out once again, making his absence a clean sweep for the week as he spent Saturday’s entire session on a golf cart. Cornerback Jerraud Powers once again did light work, and wideout Reggie Wayne returned to his duties with the first team offense, showing no effects of a minor fat pad injury to his right knee on Thursday.

The light 35-minute walkthrough was held in gentle breezes and the mid 70’s, and the Colts moved swiftly through their final tune-up. Freeney spent the session circling different personnel groupings in a cart, wearing his standard practice dress, including cleats. After practice, he exited his cart and walked gingerly into the locker room, however his right ankle was not wrapped and he didn’t receive treatment of any form during the short session. Colts coach Jim Caldwell said that Freeney had improved since Thursday, but wouldn’t comment on his availability for Sunday’s game.

“He’s better than yesterday,” Caldwell said. “He and Powers both are better than yesterday. It’s still day to day.”

Powers was limited to light work.

Wayne left Friday’s practice 20 minutes early after injuring the fat pad in his right knee, but he was available for the full session Saturday. The fat pad is the soft tissue below the kneecap. Wayne has been playing much of the season with some irritation in the pad. But he moved without restriction Saturday, and at the conclusion of practice ran about 40 yards to the locker room without favoring the knee in any way.

With the slate of practices wrapped, Caldwell said he was pleased with the week and that all of the work “went according to plan.” Caldwell also said the team’s overall health had improved during the course of the week, and was pleased with the slightly varying conditions, which included some gusting wind and rain at various times.

“The weather has been great,” Caldwell said. “Obviously yesterday we got a little taste of rain, which was good, just in case we have some. A shower could pop up at any time. The wind has been fairly consistent. We got a chance to throw with the wind, against the wind. That’s all been good.”

“We’ve done extremely well and been attentive. The [players] have been very, very focused and our practices have been sharp as well. Overall we’ve been moving in the right direction.”

Colts Final Word: Super Bowl

February, 6, 2010
2/06/10
3:01
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» Super Bowl Final Word: Colts | Saints

MIAMI -- Five nuggets of knowledge about Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints (15-3) and Indianapolis Colts (16-2):

Al Pereira/Getty ImagesColts quarterback Peyton Manning is more than capable in adapting to an opponent's defense.


1. Peyton Manning should expect to see a defensive Plan A, B and C. In the AFC Championship Game, the Jets brought some early blitzes that were unfamiliar and confused the Colts. But once Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore had some time on the sidelines to sort things out, they solved the puzzle. Once they did, they seemed to deflate New York, which failed to make any major countermoves.

Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams should have multiple plans and when he senses the Colts have figured something out, he’ll flip the switch on some major alterations and be prepared to do so multiple times. If Manning wins on smarts, odds are he will be challenged more than he was two weeks ago.

2. Indianapolis doesn’t run it well, but watch how it runs once it’s inside the 20. The Colts finished last in the league in rushing the ball this year with 1,294 yards. However, they did score 16 rushing touchdowns and ESPN Stats & Information says they had a nice balance of rush-to-pass play calls down in the red zone (74-78). Their predictability on offense before reaching the red zone may have caused Manning’s numbers to suffer on play-action passes.

In red-zone play-action he had six touchdowns and no interceptions in 12 pass attempts this season, posting a 124.3 passer rating. Outside of the red zone his rating on play-action was only 79.7 and his five touchdowns are measured against nine interceptions. His completion percentage is 63.3 outside the red zone on play-action, 20 points lower than inside it.

3. The Colts' secondary depth is their weak spot. Even if Jerraud Powers is fine to play after recent foot surgery, if the Saints can force the Colts to use six defensive backs, that last man is a shaky piece of the defense. Kelvin Hayden and Powers are quality starters, and although Jacob Lacey got torched on an 80-yard touchdown against the Jets, he’s a capable player too.

But if the Colts need to rely much on Tim Jennings or go deeper than that to someone like Aaron Francisco or T.J. Rushing, I expect Sean Payton and Drew Brees will target them as quickly and as often as possible. They should.

4. For all the grief about his postseason failures, Manning’s got some good numbers. Break down the top five players in postseason passing yardage by the game, and Manning’s the best of them with an average of 284 to Joe Montana (251), Dan Marino (251), Brett Favre (244) and John Elway (226). No one has more playoff 300-yard passing games than Manning’s seven.

But his counterpart’s got an amazing number going this season when it comes to facing top postseason quarterbacks. The Super Bowl will mark the fourth time this season Brees has faced a former Super Bowl MVP. The three quarterbacks he faced before Peyton Manning were Eli Manning, Tom Brady and Kurt Warner. Brees has been unreal in those games, posting a combined passer rating of 152.8 with three wins, 12 touchdowns and no interceptions.

5. With or without Dwight Freeney, the Colts might be wise to blitz. This defense is far different than the one on the 2006 championship Colts. That was a Cover 2 team that rushed four almost every snap. This is a group that is willing to blitz.

The Cardinals and Vikings rarely tested Brees with an additional pass rush in New Orleans’ first two postseason games, ESPN Stats & Info says. Against four or fewer rushers, he’s thrown five touchdown and no interceptions, averaged 8.2 yards an attempt and posted a passer rating of 127.3. Against five or more rushers he’s thrown one touchdown and no interceptions, averaged 4.3 yards an attempt and posted a rating of 90.2.

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