Grading out the Saints' performances from their 31-17 victory over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
Quarterback: Drew Brees completed just 3 of 7 for 27 yards in the first quarter. He was virtually flawless the rest of the way, ending the day with 32 completions in 39 attempts for 288 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 114.5 passer rating. He produced a huge 59-yard, fourth-quarter scoring drive and threw to Jeremy Shockey for the two-yard TD that proved to be the winning points. His 32 completions tied the Super Bowl record (Tom Brady, SB XXXVIII) and, oh, he led the Saints to the first championship in franchise history. Grade: A
Running Backs: The Saints got little to no production in the ground game and it was about the only shortcoming in what was, by every other measure, the most memorable performance in franchise history. Their inability to punch the ball into the end zone from the 1 near the end of the first half epitomized their impotence. However, Pierre Thomas took a pass from Brees and raced 16 yards for a TD to give the Saints a 13-10 lead in the third quarter. Otherwise, Thomas, Reggie Bush and Mike Bell did little of note. Grade: C
Receivers: It seems the entire offense got in on the pass-catching action as seven Saints caught at least two passes, led by the wide receiving duo of Marques Colston (7 catches, 83 yards) and Devery Henderson (7 catches, 63 yards). Tight end Jeremy Shockey caught that two-yard TD pass for the game-winning score, while WR Lance Moore extended his body for a two-point conversion (ruled an incompletion, it was overturned after review). Overall, a very solid and workmanlike effort for a team loaded with weapons. Grade: A-
Offensive Line: The big boys kept Drew Brees clean (one sack in 40 dropbacks), though they had trouble gouging holes into Indy's undersized and not particularly stout defensive front. The Saints ended the day with 51 yards on 18 rushing attempts (2.8 YPA). A false start by tackle Zach Strief ruined a golden touchdown opportunity when New Orleans faced second-and-goal at the Indy 3. Overall, a mixed bag. Grade: B
Defensive Line: The starting unit of Bobby McCray, Sedrick Ellis and Will Smith was gashed early by the Colts, surrendering 66 yards on the ground in the first quarter alone. Colts running back Joseph Addai needed just three carries to gain 53 yards on Indy's monster 96-yard touchdown drive in the opening frame. They also failed to get a single sack. They appeared to stiffen later in the game, but that was also the time when the Colts abandoned the ground game. Grade: B-
Linebackers: The Saints linebacking corps made its presence felt where it was most needed, on pass defense. Jonathan Vilma made one of the biggest defensive plays of the evening, but one that will be largely overlooked, early in the fourth quarter. With the Colts leading 17-16 and driving for more points at the New Orleans 33, Vilma went stride for stride down the field with Austin Collie, breaking up a pass for the receiver in the end zone. The Colts had to settle for a 51-yard field goal attempt, which Matt Stover missed. Vilma also ended the day with a team-high seven tackles for a linebacking unit largely responsible for holding the explosive Colts to 17 points. Grade: B+
Defensive Backs:Tracy Porter might have had the game of his life. He spent much of the evening covering Indy's top weapon, Reggie Wayne, and doing it quite well. Wayne was held to five catches for 46 yards. And, of course, in the fourth quarter, staring down the barrel of the quarterback who many insisted was the Greatest of All Time, Porter plucked a Peyton Manning pass out of the air and returned it 74 yards for the touchdown that inspired a million toasts in the Big Easy. Overall, New Orleans' defensive backs held Manning to a fairly quiet 333 yards. He needed 45 attempts to get there (7.4 YPA) and ended the day with just one touchdown and a very pedestrian 88.5 passer rating. Grade: A
Special Teams: The Saints were nearly flawless on special teams. Courtney Roby made a huge play early on, downing a Thomas Morstead punt at the Indy 4, while kicker Garrett Hartley was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals, with a long of 47. And, of course, the Saints executed an onside kick perfectly to open the second half, with Jonathan Casillas credited for the recovery amid a chaotic pile up at midfield. Grade: A
Coaching:Sean Payton made two critical calls that changed the course of the game. First, the decision to open the second half with an onside kick, in a very close game (10-6 at the time) -- and in a Super Bowl no less -- was one of the gutsiest coaching decisions in NFL history. Disaster certainly awaited if the Saints failed. Then in the fourth quarter, he challenged the call of an incomplete pass on a two-point conversion attempt (Brees to Lance Moore). He was proven right when the play was overruled by replay, and the Saints had a 24-17 lead with less than six minutes to play. In between huge decisions, his and Gregg Williams' defense frustrated Peyton Manning and his offense produced big drives when needed. His offense will get much of the credit, but the victory concludes a playoff run in which the Saints defense frustrated Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Manning in consecutive games. Grade: A+
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