By Jeff Duncan, The New Orleans Times-Picayune
February 08, 2010, 3:43AM
MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. - Sunday started in New Orleans with the Rev. Monsignor Crosby W. Kern celebrating Mass with a Drew Brees jersey underneath his vestments.
It ended in Miami Gardens with Brees standing atop a gridiron altar to accept the Pete Rozelle Trophy as the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV after his near flawless performance led the New Orleans Saints to their first world championship.
They elected a new mayor in New Orleans on Saturday.
They will crown a new king of Carnival next week.
But New Orleans is and forever will be Brees' town. He'll never buy another drink, never purchase another meal and never pay another parking ticket.
It's his faubourg. We're just living in it.
The Saints quarterback etched his place in city legend alongside Bienville, Iberville and Armstrong with one of the great passing performances in Super Bowl history.
His 32-of-39, 288-yard, two-touchdown masterpiece vanquished the Colts and four-time league MVP Peyton Manning, who heretofore was known as New Orleans' favorite son.
It also successfully completed what Brees called "a calling" when he signed with the franchise as an unrestricted free agent four years ago only months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and region.
"This is incredible, " Brees said. "I mean, are you kidding, are you kidding me? Four years ago, whoever thought this would be happening? It's unbelievable."
Unbelievable would be an accurate way to describe Brees' performance in the final three quarters against the Colts.
The man who set the NFL record for accuracy this season was an uncharacteristic 3-of-7 for 27 yards in the first quarter.
The rest of the way, he completed 29 of 32 passes for 261 yards, two touchdowns and an extra point. Two of his incompletions were a spike to stop the clock and a dropped ball by Reggie Bush in the third quarter.
Brees saved his best for last. With the game on the line, he engineered a drive that will be remembered by Saints fans for all eternity. With the Saints trailing 17-16 with 10 minutes to play, he completed all seven of his passes for 40 yards in a nine-play, 59-yard scoring march that put the Saints ahead for the second time all night. Each completion went to a different receiver.
They were, in order, as follows:
Pierre Thomas for 5 yards.
Devery Henderson for 6.
Reggie Bush for 8.
Marques Colston for 8.
Robert Meachem for 6.
David Thomas for 9.
Jeremy Shockey for the final 2 and the go-ahead touchdown.
Then for good measure, Brees hit Lance Moore for the two-point conversion.
Eight passes, eight receivers. None of the completions traveled more than 9 yards.
How's that for finishing strong?
"He was spectacular, " Shockey said.
"His performance was awesome, " Saint guard Jahri Evans said. "He's been awesome all year, and today he showed it."
Brees' heroics fueled a nearly perfect final three quarters of football from the Saints, who spotted the Colts a 10-0 lead, then stormed from behind as they had all season. His 32 completions tied the Super Bowl record set by Tom Brady of the New England Patriots against the Carolina Panthers in 2004.
On the same field where he directed one of the greatest comebacks in club history against the Miami Dolphins three months earlier, he guided the Saints to scores on five of their six series in the final three quarters. They were a failed goal-line play away from going six-for-six.
"He just led, " Saints receiver Colston said. "I'm just so proud of that guy and just so happy to be just associated with greatness in that way."
The signature victory completed an impressive postseason hat trick for Brees. In consecutive games, he outdueled a trio of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks: Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, and, finally, Manning.
His numbers in those three contests were staggering: 72 completions in 102 passes for 732 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. His passer efficiency rating was 117.0.
"Brees was magnificent tonight, " Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "He played so well, so efficiently. He was fantastic. He was fantastic all year. He's just a winner. Everywhere he's been, he's won it. And now he's won it for us."
Payton might as well have spoken for all of the Saints nation with those words.
Maybe those "Breesus" shirts weren't so blasphemous after all.
New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton's aggressive style pays off
By John DeShazier, The New Orleans Times-Picayune
February 08, 2010, 3:07AM
MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. - The gutsiest coach ever to walk the sideline for the New Orleans Saints saved his most daring call for the biggest game in franchise history. Yes, they're made of brass.
And because of that, Sean Payton and the Saints own a prize that's sterling silver -- the Lombardi Trophy, earned by the NFL champion, which New Orleans assuredly and emphatically is after posting a 31-17 victory over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Indianapolis Colts during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
The title game will be remembered for many things -- Tracy Porter's theft of a Peyton Manning pass and 74-yard return for the clinching score, Drew Brees' pinpoint accuracy (32-of-39 for 288 yards and two touchdowns en route to being selected Super Bowl MVP), and a defensive lockdown which smothered the Colts and held them to a touchdown over the final three quarters. But high on the list will be Payton's aggression.
"You know you're going to be competing to win, " offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. "There's one thing that a player wants, and that's it. You want to know that Coach backs you, he has faith in our group, and he's going to put us in situations to be successful.
"So those aggressive points -- he's putting the ball in our court, saying, 'Go make a play, guys. I've got faith in you. Go make me right.' That's exactly what you want."
Ted Jackson/The Times-PicayuneNew Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton holds aloft the Vince Lombardi trophy.True, there are days when the swashbuckler in Payton has gotten the best of him and the Saints, days when an ill-timed reverse proved costly or the unwillingness to play it safe proved costlier.
Sunday wasn't one of those days. Sunday was one of those days where the Saints made Payton right, made him look exactly like what he has been -- the most successful coach in team history, author of four of the franchise's five playoff victories and of the first Super Bowl win in the team's 43 seasons.
The onside kick Payton called to open the second half, with the Saints trailing 10-6 and not particularly wanting to hand the ball over to Manning to begin the third quarter, proved to be brilliant.
Thomas Morstead, the rookie punter who was an unpopular draft pick and never had kicked off before this season, perfectly executed his part of the equation. Safety Chris Reis and linebacker Jonathan Casillas did the rest. Reis first got his hands on the ball, couldn't control it and ended up wrestling with Casillas for possession. Casillas came up with it, the Saints took over at their 44, and six plays later, Brees and running back Pierre Thomas collaborated on a 16-yard touchdown pass that culminated with Thomas diving into the end zone at 11:41 of the quarter.
The score gave the Saints their first lead.
The call that set it up was just another glimpse at the nature of Payton.
"Every week we practice that onside kick, " Payton said. "At halftime, I just told those guys, 'You've got to make me look right here.' It was something we'd seen and had practiced all week.
"You get a little nervous -- there's a lot going on the week of the Super Bowl. The key was the kicker; Thomas (Morstead) hit it good."
That play put the swagger in the Saints (16-3). As much, it took a little something out of the Colts (16-3).
"The onside kick was huge, " Colts safety Melvin Bullitt said. "As special teams captain, I feel like we kind of didn't do what we were supposed to do. We always talk about the little things, and that was a little thing that was huge.
"If we would've got the ball right there, maybe on the 40-yard line going in, the game could've went a totally different way. We would've been up by, what, (11) points? So that was a huge turning point in the game."
It wasn't the only sign of Payton pushing the envelope, though.
In the second quarter, he let his offense go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1. The Colts made the stop, but the Saints' defense forced a punt, and Garrett Hartley kicked a 44-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to pull the Saints to 10-6.
And after the Colts retook the lead at 17-16, they failed to extend their lead when Matt Stover missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt. Brees then directed a nine-play, 59-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey with 5:46 left.
The two-point conversion pass from Brees to Lance Moore was ruled incomplete on the field. Payton challenged and, presto, the call was overturned (Moore had possession and was down before the ball was kicked out of his hands), and the Saints had a 24-17 lead.
"He came in playing to win this game, " linebacker Scott Fujita said. "I think we knew all week we were going to call that kick at some point. None of us doubted that we were gonna get the ball.
"You like that. As a defensive guy, you like that. He's got a certain swagger about him, it carries over to the offense. And you bring in a guy like (defensive coordinator) Gregg Williams, who has a swagger, as well. Now you've got a lot of guys playing aggressive, playing confident.
"Sean Payton's the leader of the pack. When he needed to count on us to step up and make those plays, guys did it."
Time and again, they did it for Payton this season, until the coach was able to hold aloft the sterling silver prize.
"I just think it's important that -- certainly, you have a plan, you're careful, and yet you want to show your players you're confident, " Payton said.
"All week long we really felt, as underdogs, we had the better team. We liked the spot we were in."
They like the spot of champions a lot better, no doubt.
John DeShazier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org