2009 NFL Championship Round Review

Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the “Who Dat” Nation were all smiles as New Orleans made their first Super Bowl by beating the Vikings in OT.  The upstart Saints will play the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV

We now know that the 90th NFL Season will culminate at Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida with the Indianapolis Colts (16-2) against the New Orleans Saints (15-3).  Both teams, who seemed to be on a collision course earlier this season, showed their mettle by turning back extraordinary efforts by the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings to earn their respective tickets to the NFL’s biggest stage. 

For a long time this year’s Super Bowl match-up seemed predestined as both of these teams remained undefeated teams through 14 weeks – first time two 13-0 teams in NFL history —  and an 18-0 undefeated showdown seemed very possible.  Of course any talk of the “Perfection” Bowl ended with the Saints losing to the Cowboys in Week 15 and the Colts choosing to “rest” their players in a Week 16 loss to the NY Jets. 

Though the match-up will be sans the undefeated part, many people’s intrigue around the Colts-Saints big game should be increased as two of the NFL’s top quarterbacks will be taking center stage.  This season, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning became the NFL’s only 4-time MVP while Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw more regular season touchdowns (34) than anyone else in the league.  Offensive fireworks are sure to fly in Super Bowl XLIV as both teams can put up points while their defenses are not known to be the stoutest — Colts ranked 18th in defense and the Saints finished 25th

Before we move onto the inordinate amount of hype that is sure to follow in the 2-week build up to the Super Bowl, let’s review the two Championship Games from this past Sunday that has brought us the NFL’s first No. 1 Seed battle since 1993 (Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII). In a very odd side note, my crystal ball for the 2008 season said the Colts over the Saints in the Super Bowl.  Of course I am a year late and my picks for this year, the Steelers and NYGiants,  are nowhere to be found.

2009 AFC Championship Game Review

In the end, surefire Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and rookie head coach Jim Caldwell held the Lamar Hunt trophy, signifying the AFC Championship, aloft  after a dominating 30-17 win over the scrappy New York Jets.  After enduring much talk during the week of their inability to out-tough the physical New York Jets, the Colts showed their gumption by scoring 24 unanswered points after trailing by a deficit of 17-6 late in the 2nd quarter.

This time around Manning and the Colts’ regulars played the entire game and there was no “rest” until the job was complete.  The Colts showed the heart of a champion as they had to endure the brash young New York Jets, who turned their swagger into some early points. 

The Jets continually throughout the 2009 regular season got early leads on teams and then allowed their vaunted defense to close the door.  But this time was different as Manning and the rest of his mates knew a 60-minute effort would be needed to make their 2nd Super Bowl in the last four years possible.

“We talked about being patient against these guys,” Manning said. “We knew it would be a four-quarter game.”  The road warrior Jets answered early Colts’ field goals by putting up two quick touchdowns and definitely seemed to be following in the footsteps of the old J-E-T-S of Joe Namath who beat the Colts in Super Bowl III. 

Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, the fourth rookie quarterback to lead his team to the conference title game, brought Jets’ nation to their feet with an 80-yard touchdown pass to  Braylon Edwards giving New York a 7-3 lead.

Then Jets Wildcat QB/receiver Brad Smith, a former dual threat passer at Missouri, connected with receiver Jerricho Cotchery for a 45-yard pass to the Colts 12.   Just three plays later, Sanchez hit TE Dustin Keller with a 9-yard touchdown pass to give the Jets a 14-6 lead and cause many Colts fans to recall playoff disappoints of the past.  The doom and gloom only got worse for Indy when running back Joseph Addai’s fumble set up Jay Feely’s 48-yard field goal to make the score 17-6 with halftime looming.

Alright queue the NFL Films music…Knowing that going into halftime down to the Jets, who sported the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense coming into the game, was recipe for defeat, the Colts offense answered the bell.  Manning led the Colts on an 80-yard scoring drive in only four plays.  The 4-time MVP found one his new favorite young targets, rookie Austin Collie, three straight times with the drive culminating with a 16-yard touchdown pass to the former BYU player with little over a minute left in the first half.  By leading the Colts to a more manageable 17-13 deficit, Manning and Caldwell (fifth rookie coach to reach the Super Bowl) grabbed back the momentum for the second half. 

After stopping the Jets to start the second half, Manning and Colts took the lead for good when the veteran quarterback hit the Player of the Game, receiver Pierre Garcon (11 catches for 151 yards and 1 TD), in the end zone to make the score 20-17 with 8:03 left in the third quarter.  The Colts never looked back and there were a variety of players that made their Super Bowl trip a reality.  Manning finished with unbelievable numbers of 26/39, 377 YDS, and 3 TDs while becoming first player to pass for three touchdowns against the Jets this season.  The veteran quarterback made the Jets pay for their blitz-happy ways as he moved the ball around to five different targets throughout the game. 

The Colts had to find other options than No. 1 receiver Reggie Wayne and they did.  With the Jets focusing their entire scheme on getting pressure on Manning and having Pro Bowl sticky corner Darrelle Revis shadow Wayne. Manning’s other targets Garcon, Collie, and TE Dallas picked up the slack with each catching a touchdown pass in the win. Collie and Garcon, both had career highs in yardage, combined for 18 receptions for 274 yards and two touchdowns while repeatedly coming up with big receptions in the clutch.  With the Colts’ O-line keeping the Jets at bay, Manning — first player in league history with seven 300-yard postseason games — got the ball out his hands quickly and dropped passes into “shoeboxes” despite tight coverage in the win.  Caldwell said of his on the field leader, “Peyton had just an outstanding game. He’s one of those guys that can adjust to different situations. … A real champion.”

Credit for the win must also be given to the Colts often maligned defense, who shutout the Jets in the second half.   The Colts knew shutting down the Jets’ vaunted rushing attack was key and they did.  After averaging 170 rushing yards in their first two playoff games, the Jets’ top-ranked ground game was held to just 86 yards on 29 attempts – knocked rookie runner Shonn Greene out of the game with a rib injury.  And allowed the Colts to win the time of possession battle 31:25 to 28:35.  To his credit Sanchez (17 of 30 for 257 yards with two TDs and 4th quarter interception) did play some good football and produced some plays, but the Colts veterans on defense played with pride and forced one turnover.

The Colts are now headed back to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years and their fourth time in franchise history. To make things even more magical, the Colts will be playing at the same venue where they won Super Bowl XLI to close out the 2006 season.  Manning will also be facing the team he grew-up rooting for, the New Orleans Saints, who won 31-28 in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings in NFC Championship.  Peyton’s father, Archie Manning, who played many years for New Orleans said of the upcoming Super Bowl match-up, “I’m pulling for the Colts 100 percent, it’s not even close”

“We’ve been here before, we had seven comeback wins this year. I think the guys were a little rattled at first, I think we took their best shot, but we came back,” linebacker Gary Brackett said. “I think we did a great job of being the hunters and imposing our will today.”  The Colts their resiliency after the win, but they need to remember that is still one more game to go.  I know their fans will remind them as they will accept nothing less than a Super Bowl title to put “Rest-Gate” truly to rest.

2009 NFC Championship Game Review

Some will call this overtime thriller, where little known kicker Garrett Hartley connected on a 40-yard game-winning field goal to send the New Orleans Saints to their first  Super Bowl, an Instant Classic.  But I am not so sure as the Saints’ hard fought 31-28 overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings was thrilling  however it was very sloppy too. 

The great ending overshadowed a tough game that featured 9 fumbles (4 lost) and 2 interceptions between both teams including five turnovers by the Vikings.  Of course the “prettiness” of the win didn’t matter to the Saint’s faithful who packed the Superdome – franchise’s largest of 71,276 – then afterwards flooded Bourbon Street for a celebration that New Orleans had not seen in years. 

The biggest play of the game of course was Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre’s risky cross-field pass that was intercepted by Saints DB Tracy Porter near the end of the regulation (19 seconds left in the game). The Saints defense had harassed and battered Favre the whole game and the aging quarterback wanted to make a play so bad that he made a huge mistake that setup overtime.   “I’ve felt better,” said Favre after the game. “It was a physical game. A lot of hits. You win that and you sure feel a lot better.”  Favre’s final pass as a member of the Packers, Jets and Vikings are all interceptions.  I wonder when old No. 4 is going to start his retire/unretire talk this offseason.

The seesaw game also showed the good and bad of Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, who ran “violently” for 122 yards and three touchdowns, but also lost two fumbles.  Overall, the Vikings piled up 475 yards and 28 points but were undone by five turnovers and penalties.  Conversely, Saints quarterback Drew Brees (17 of 31 for 197 yards and three TDs) was cool and calm in the pocket as he led one of the NFL’s most downtrodden franchises to their first Super Bowl.   Brees showed the savvy and leadership that caused New Orleans to embrace him before the 2006 season.

In overtime, New Orleans won the coin toss and Brees quickly guided the Saints to the Minnesota 22 mixing both the pass and run.  Before Hartley’s field goal, the biggest play of the drive was RB Pierre Thomas converting a fourth-and-1 with a goal-line type leap.  After Hartley’s game-winner, the Superdome that once serve as a refuge for many after Hurricane Katrina was now alive as the “Who Dat” Nation” celebrated their unlikely hero.  New Orleans is the first team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl after entering the playoffs with a losing streak of three or more games. The Saints’ record at home improved to 14-4 since 2008, including the playoffs.

Now former paper bag-wearing Saints fans could finally put their No. 1 fingers in the air as they had made it to the NFL’s ultimate game.  “It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for a long time and obviously we’re not done yet,” said Brees.  The Saints (15-3) will meet Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts (16-2) in the Super Bowl in two weeks in South Florida.

 The Super Bowl match-up will be a highly anticipated offensive match-up, but Brees and the upstart Saints will have to finish the job against the veteran-laden Colts.  Immediately following Sunday’s game, Indianapolis was installed as 4-point favorites and already the line is moving higher.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

  • With the NFC Championship Game ending in overtime on the Saints’ first drive after winning the coin toss of the extra session, there is sure to be much discussion around the league of giving both teams a chance to score in overtime.  However recent history has shown that no one around the league is really “crying” over the current rules other than some fans and media.  Back at the 2009 NFL League Meetings, the Competition Committee listened to the evils of sudden death overtime and they decided to not vote on any proposals to change the existing overtime rules. Despite the fact that back when the discussion occurred after the 2008 season that 63 percent of overtime games were won by the coin toss winning team.  Most players that I have talked to, do not mind the current overtime format and want to fight it out in sudden death – just have your defense stop the other team.  And I must admit that I am also in agreement with the Competition Committee.



Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)