Drew Brees orchestrated a great football game and was appropriately awarded the Super Bowl XLIV MVP for his two-touchdown performance, but it was his head coach Sean Payton that propelled the Saints to their first championship in franchise history.
It was some of the gutsiest play-calling by a head coach in Super Bowl history, and Payton was front and center, seemingly desperate to gain the upper hand and make a difference for his football team on Sunday.
Well, his unthinkable call for an onside kick to start the second half certainly did it for the Saints, who desperately needed a spark trailing 10-6 coming out of halftime.
They recovered the ball amidst a mad scramble for the football and started to play with a lot of confidence from that moment on.
It was the difference-maker and completely changed the momentum of the game, especially since the Saints cashed in with a quick score to take their first lead of the Super Bowl. After Thomas punched it into the end zone on a 16-yard catch and run, the Saints started marching on both sides of the ball.
Certainly Manning was able to respond with a touchdown for the Colts, but the onside kick seemed to ignite the New Orleans sideline and the team spirit. It launched a red-hot second half for the Saints, starting with Thomas' score, in which they dominated the AFC champions with a decisive 25-7 scoring edge.
Yet, as great a play as it turned out to be in the end, a botched onside kick could've been deadly and ultimately been a difference-maker the other way en route to another Indianapolis Super Bowl celebration. Peyton would've been handed the ball in prime field position at midfield and likely would've added to the Colts lead.
But as destiny had it, the ball bounced off Hank Baskett and fell into the Saints' lap, essentially acting as a key turnover early in the third quarter. The New Orleans sideline erupted and took the game over from there.
The onside kick wasn't the first bold move by Payton.
In the first half, when it seemed points were going to be at a premium, he decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal trying to even the game at 10 apiece going into the half. Instead, the Colts' front seven engineered a massive goal-line stand to deny Pierre Thomas a touchdown.
It's one of those plays that could've been devastating for a Saints team playing in their first Super Bowl, but Indianapolis wasn't able to move the ball offensively. New Orleans underrated defense stepped up big time to hold Manning and give the offense its chance to rebound and put points on the board before halftime.
Yet, the failure of his fourth-and-goal decision certainly didn't scare Payton from pulling out another surprise play call. It was executed to perfection out of the half, and the Saints head coach deserves all the credit—not only for the onside kick but also for changing the complexion of Super Bowl XLIV in New Orleans' favor.