A Special Super Bowl: Giving Credit to the Saints Special Teams

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A Special Super Bowl: Giving Credit to the Saints Special Teams
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Ambush!

A perfect word to describe the onside kick to begin the second half. Yes, it was New Orleans head coach Sean Payton’s name for the play, but it summed up the game.

It was almost as if the first quarter was a set-up for the rest of the game. Indianapolis moves the ball efficiently to gain a ten-point lead. Colts QB Peyton Manning is feeling good about himself and the team’s chances.

Then, in the second quarter, the Saints begin to move the ball and control the clock. Sure, they only had two field goals to show for it going into halftime, but they kept Manning and the Colts offense off of the field. And then…

AMBUSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The onside kick, and really the Saints’ special teams play overall, epitomized Super Bowl XLIV. It is not as though Colts head coach Jim Caldwell had a poor game plan, although I do question the abandonment of the run. Joseph Addai had 79 yards on ten carries midway through the third quarter; he ended with 13 carries for 77 yards!

But Payton took more chances, played “to win the game,” and comparatively speaking outcoached his counterpart. The Saints played aggressively and proved to be the better team on this occasion.

But it is the Saints' special teams that really came through, starting with punter Thomas Morstead. Not only did he execute “Ambush”, but the SMU graduate's two punts were returned for zero yards. On the first punt, Courtney Roby made a great tackle on Colts' returner T.J. Rushing. 

Roby also made the big play on the second punt, downing it at the Colts' four-yard line.  Yes, Manning and the Colts took the ball 96 yards for a touchdown, but still that was no fault of Morstead.

As for the onside kick, the rookie Morstead executed it to perfection. Not only did it give the Saints the ball to start the second half, but it likely disrupted the Colts’ game plan. I am sure Manning, Caldwell, and the Colts offense had the schemes set up to open the second half. But with the onside recovery, the entire game plan changed because Drew Brees drove the Saints downfield to take their first lead of the game.

And credit to reserve safety Chris Reis. The special teamer was the one who recovered the kick. I am sure it was a battle for his life at the bottom of the scrum, but held on to the ball, and helped Coach Payton's gamble pay off.

Additionally, kicker Garrett Hartley nailed three field goals, all of distances greater than 40 yards. His 47-yarder [third kick of the game] was a season-long and tied his career-long.

It was a sweet end to Hartley’s season, which began by being suspended four games under the NFL’s banned substance policy. He then did not regain his starting role until Week 12.

Things became worse when Hartley missed a potential game-winning field goal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a bizarre play because most of the hometown Saints fans, including team owner Tom Benson, thought the kick was going to be good and began celebrating before realizing that it sailed wide.

The Bucs, who had tied the game late in the fourth on a Michael Spurlock punt return (kicked, of course, by Morstead), would go on to win the game and lead many people to question whether or not the Saints were for real.

This doubt placed an additional burden on Hartley. If you recall during the NFC Championship Game, there was some doubt expressed by the announcers as to how reliable Hartley, a second-year kicker out of Oklahoma who had a rocky season, would be in a game-winning situation. Obviously, he proved he could be called upon in clutch situations as he nailed the 40-yarder to send the Saints to Miami.

For Hartley, it was a sweet way to end the season. Sure, it was not a game-winning kick on the biggest stage in professional football, but three 40-yarders (a Super Bowl record, by the way) is still impressive. Hartley methodically nailed his attempts like a seasoned veteran.

Meanwhile, Colts kicker Matt Stover, a 19-year veteran, missed a crucial 51-yard kick. Perhaps here it is safe to criticize Caldwell as Stover had not made a 50-plus yard kick since the 2006 season when he made a 52-yarder to beat the Cleveland Browns. It is another measure of how the Saints won all facets of the game—offense, defense, and special teams.

So, no disrespect to Super Bowl MVP Brees or cornerback Tracy Porter, who picked off Manning and took it back for the score. The offense and defense for the Saints came up big.

But give some credit to the special teams. Hartley, Morstead, Reis, Roby and the rest of the special teams unit all played a big part in making this Super Bowl, well, special.

This article originally appeared on Uncle Popov's Drunken Sports Rant on Monday, February 8, 2010.

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