Former Oklahoma Sooner Kicker Garrett Hartley Breaks Super Bowl Record
The New Orleans Saints are the "Aints" no more now as they have beaten the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV 31-17.
As Drew Brees tied Tom Brady's Super Bowl record of 32 completions (at one point throwing 10 straight), throwing at a rate of 80.1 percent (second highest in Super Bowl history), and orchestrated one of the best performances in recent postseason memory, one could argue that Brees' fire was sparked by the deadly accurate leg of Saints kicker Garrett Hartley.
After the Colts took a commanding 10-point lead to go up 10-0, the New Orleans offense looked stifled, going three-and-out on their first two possessions.
Then in the second quarter, the Saints were finally able to put a decent drive together, only to have it abruptly ended on 3rd-and-3 by a Dwight Freeney sack of Brees, setting up a long 46-yard field goal attempt.
Garrett calmly walked onto the field, lined up, and belted the ball straight through the uprights to put the Saints on the board.
Though they were still down by seven to the Colts, and Payton Manning was getting the ball back, the field goal seemed to give the New Orleans Saints what they needed: the belief that they could win.
The next series the Colts were forced to punt, and the Saints took their new-found faith and drove all the way down to the Colts two-yard line, but a decision to go for it on fourth down cost the Saints a chance to turn up the heat as Pierre Thomas (Saints RB) was stopped cold on a slant right run.
The Saints' offense looked dejected as they stood on the sidelines, and they needed another spark, they soon got it as the New Orleans defense was able to hold Indianapolis on 3rd-and-1 deep in Colt territory.
Once again Drew Brees was able to get into Colt territory only to be stymied at the 27-yard line, setting up another long kick for the second year kicker Hartley, this one for 44-yards with only a few seconds remaining in the half.
Garrett handled the bright-light moment masterfully, booming another picture-perfect kick through dead center of the posts, and with it got the struggling offense of the Saints within a score of the lead, helping to turn a "belief" that they could win into a full blown expectation.
Drew Brees and Saints carried the momentum that Hartley had bestowed upon the team out of the half, coming out on fire and driving down the length of the field and scoring a TD on a well timed screen-pass to Pierre Thomas to take their first lead of the game at 13-10.
Peyton Manning would respond quickly, driving Indianapolis down the field with precision passing, opening up a Joseph Addai (Colt RB) four-yard rush for a touchdown and taking back the lead 17-13.
With the momentum now back with the Colts, the Saints needed to answer with points on the board. New Orleans can ill afford to let Indianapolis gain confidence by holding them to a four-point deficit so late in the game.
So the Saints set out on a long methodical drive, finally running out of steam at the Indianapolis 32-yard line with only two minutes left in the third, and leaving the former Sooner kicker with a whopping 47-yard attempt, making it Garrett's third kick from at least 40 yards.
The game's result hung in the balance.
Make this, and Garrett will not only put himself in the record books but he can close the gap with the Colts and return the momentum back towards his team going in to the closing quarter of play.
Miss it, and Manning is likely to make you pay dearly by putting the lead over a single score, at the very least run some clock off and keep the field position very much in Indy's favor. Either outcome not likely to be a boon to victory.
With the pressure to succeed at it's highest, Garrett took the field.
As Hartley's foot made contact, the fact that the kick was good became instantly apparent, sailing through with room to spare, simultaneously giving Manning something to worry about, and the Saints something to feel good about.
With the made attempt Garrett became the only kicker to make three field goals of at least 40-yards in a Super Bowl contest, quite a feat in itself. But with the situation in the game being what it was, the kicks were likely the catalyst to the Saints win.
Indianapolis would go three and out on their next possession, and the lead was taken back on the Saints next drive with a touchdown pass from Brees to Jeremy Shockey (Saints TE).
The game was eventually clinched with the 74-yard interception return for a touchdown by Tracy Porter on the Colts next drive, giving the New Orleans Saints their first Super Bowl title.
But without such a big-time, record setting performance by kicker Garrett Hartley, the newly crowned champions could have very likely been just another team in the background of Peyton Manning's highlight reel, an afterthought in the history books.
Not getting fitted for rings and yelling out "Who dat!"
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