Super Bowl XLIV: The Saints Ambush and Triumph

New Orleans ''Ambushed'' a heavily favored Indianapolis team in Super Bowl XLIV to take their first championship.
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The Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet this evening in Super Bowl LV to conclude an incredibly challenging 2020 season for all NFL 32 teams. The Saints saw their 2020 season come to an end at the hands of those Buccaneers in a 30-20 defeat at home in the Divisional Playoff round. 

While this New Orleans season ended with another playoff disappointment, today's Super Bowl marks the ten-year anniversary of one of the greatest moments in franchise history.

New Orleans entered the 2009 season as an afterthought to most experts and their championship predictions. Sure, the Saints had an explosive offense and a productive quarterback in Drew Brees, who had just the second 5,000-Yd passing season in NFL history in 2008. 

After surprisingly advancing to the NFC Championship game in 2006, the Saints could not give Brees any rushing balance offensively and ranked near the bottom of the league defensively in 2007 and 2008, finishing with 7-9 and 8-8 records.

CREDIT: neworleanssaints.com

CREDIT: neworleanssaints.com

The Saints came storming out of the gate in the 2009 season, winning their first 13 games and grabbing the NFC's top seed with a 13-3 record. Their improved defense gave up yards, but forced the second-most turnovers in the league and scored six defensive touchdowns. 

A back-by-committee philosophy gave the Saints offensive balance, and running backs Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, TE Jeremy Shockey, and wideouts Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, and Robert Meachem gave New Orleans the NFL's most diverse passing attack.

After New Orleans destroyed defending conference champ Arizona in the Divisional Playoffs, they outlasted Minnesota in an NFC title game thriller to earn their first-ever trip to the Super Bowl.

Standing in the Saints' path for a championship would be the Indianapolis Colts, a perennial title contender who had won the Super Bowl three years earlier. The Colts finished 2009 with a 14-2 record and had thundered through the playoffs behind NFL MVP quarterback Peyton Manning and a nearly unstoppable passing attack with 1,000-Yd receivers, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. 

Indianapolis, like New Orleans, gave up yardage defensively. Their devastating pass-rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis combined for 23 sacks and made opposing quarterbacks pay for engaging in a shoot-out with Manning.

CREDIT: USA TODAY 

CREDIT: USA TODAY 

Sean Payton and his Saints had overcome future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Kurt Warner of the Cardinals and Brett Favre of the Vikings to get to the Super Bowl. Now on the game's biggest stage, their last obstacle would be four-time league MVP Peyton Manning, a New Orleans native and son of former Saints quarterback Archie Manning.

SUPER BOWL XLIV - Feb. 7, 2010

New Orleans Saints vs. Indianapolis Colts

First Half

CREDIT: neworleanssaints.com

CREDIT: neworleanssaints.com

The Saints received the ball to start the game, but could not convert a 3rd and 2 and went three-and-out on their first possession. Indianapolis took their first possession and drove 53 yards in 11 plays. Manning went 6 of 8 passing on the drive, but an incompletion on 3rd down from the New Orleans 20 forced them to settle for a Matt Stover field goal and a 3-0 lead. 

The Saints would pick up their first 1st down of the day on their next possession and drove the ball to midfield, but a critical drop by Marques Colston on third down forced them to punt again. Rookie P Thomas Morstead pinned the Colts down to their own 4-yard line with the punt.

Indianapolis rolled for 96 yards on 11 plays as the first quarter wound down, taking a 10-0 lead on a 19-Yd touchdown pass from Manning to WR Pierre Garcon. At that point in Super Bowl history, only one team had come back from a ten-point deficit. With history now against them, the New Orleans offense finally woke up, driving 60 yards into scoring position. A Dwight Freeney sack short-circuited the drive on 3rd down, but a 46-Yd Garrett Hartley field goal got the Saints on the board and narrowed the deficit to 10-3.

CREDIT: USA TODAY

CREDIT: USA TODAY

The Saints' defense also came to life on the next possession, forcing the Colts to go three-and-out and giving the ball back to Brees. New Orleans drove to the Indianapolis 1-Yd line on a 12-play, 71-yard drive and looked to tie the game late in the second quarter. However, on 4th and goal from the one Pierre Thomas was stuffed to turn the ball over on downs.

New Orleans was again stout defensively, forcing Indianapolis to punt after another three-and-out to give their offense the ball back at midfield with just 35 seconds left in the first half. Three quick completions from Brees set Hartley up for a successful 44-Yd field goal on the last play of the half and cut the Indianapolis lead to 10-6 at halftime.

Second Half

CREDIT: neworleanssaints.com

CREDIT: neworleanssaints.com

Sean Payton shocked the world to open the second half of Super Bowl XLIV, calling for an onside kick nicknamed ‘‘Ambush'' that the Saints had secretly practiced all week. Thomas Morstead executed the onside perfectly, and Chris Reis came out of the pile with the ball to give the Saints possession at their own 42.

Brees, who had led the NFL in completion percentage in 2009, had gone just 3 for 7 on the opening two drives. He was on fire after that, completing 29 of 31 attempts through the rest of the game. Brees completed all five of his attempts for 51 yards on the drive after the onside recovery. The last was a 16-Yd touchdown strike to Pierre Thomas, who expertly weaved through the Colt defense and dove into the end zone for a 13-10 New Orleans lead.

Manning and the Colts answered immediately, driving the ball 76 yards in ten plays to retake the lead 17-13 on a 4-Yd touchdown run from RB Joseph Addai. The Saints replied with an eight-play march of their own, with Hartley nailing a 47-Yd field goal to slice the Indianapolis lead to 17-16 late in the 3rd quarter. Hartley was the first player in Super Bowl history to have three field goals of longer than 40 yards.

CREDIT: USA TODAY

CREDIT: USA TODAY

The Colts held the ball for over six minutes on a 12-play drive into the fourth quarter on their ensuing possession. New Orleans stiffened defensively, and Stover misfired on a long field goal attempt to give the Saints the ball back at their own 41. Brees, who was 32 of 39 for 288 yards and 2 touchdowns on the day, trotted onto the field with 10:39 remaining and his team trailing by a point.

Brees went 7 for 7 on a 59-Yd touchdown march that ended with a perfectly thrown 2-Yd scoring strike to TE Jeremy Shockey. The Saints went for two, and WR Lance Moore pulled in the throw with an acrobatic grab that put his team up 24-17 with just 5:46 remaining. The outcome of this showdown would now come down to the Saints defense against New Orleans royalty Peyton Manning. 

Three quick completions from Manning took the Colts down to the New Orleans 31 with 3:29 left on the clock. On 3rd and 5, Manning looked to his left and let the ball fly to WR Reggie Wayne, who had already pulled in two receptions on the drive. New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter flew in front of the throw for an interception and sprinted down the sideline for a 74-Yd score that sent the New Orleans bench into bedlam.

CREDIT: USA TODAY

CREDIT: USA TODAY

Porter's interception return clinched the Super Bowl championship with a 31-17 victory. Brees was awarded the MVP with a brilliant performance, but this title was a culmination of a team effort. 

Super Bowl XLIV was a microcosm of the Saints' 2009 season, with players in all three phases of the game coming through with clutch performances in crucial moments.