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THE FIRST POINT...Why Steven Waye envisions immortality for Peyton's Colts
I have finally made my peace with Peyton Manning. He’s a hard guy to like: the smarmy Visa commercials, the neurotic rain-dance he performs every time he steps up to the line and changes a play, the five-head and first-day-of-kindergarten haircut that make him look like a preppy horse; these things are a lot for a fan to overcome. But over the years, the guy has just worn me down with his excellence, both on the football field and in his SNL skits. As annoying as he is, he gets the job done just about every time, with robotic precision.
It’s to the point where Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams has basically admitted that his game plan consists of blitzing the hell out of him and praying that one of his guys land a knockout punch.
"This guy's got a great clock in his head,” says Williams. “The big thing is that he throws the ball so early that we're going to have to do a good job of finding ways to get to him and when we do get to him we're going to have to make sure he gets a couple 'remember me' shots when we get there.
When you put too much of that type of worry on a warrior’s mind, he doesn’t play all out. If it happens, it happens. And the only thing you’d like for me to say is that if it happens you hope he doesn’t get back up and play again.”
Good luck, buddy. As Williams himself recognizes, there’s no one in the game better at beating the blitz than Manning, possibly ever. If you rush him, he can drop it underneath. You drop guys back in coverage and he shows you that “laser rocket arm” is more than just a memorable catchphrase.
And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to take anything away from what the Saints offense has done either. They have a host of weapons and one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league delivering the ball. But their defense, outside of fantasy stat sheets, is atrocious. They’ve given up a ton of points, and the most yards in the league. Williams helped mitigate those weaknesses by scheming well, and his boys in the secondary responded with 10 defensive touchdowns, lead by veteran safety Darren Sharper with 3. Plus, they hit hard and hit often, their nastiness contributing to the retirement of Kurt Warner and sending Brett Favre home with at least as big of a headache as he’s bound to cause the Vikings front office this offseason.
But if they’re counting on their astounding propensity for takeaways to take down Peyton Manning, they might as well do away with whatever semblance of subtlety left over after Williams’ comments and club Manning in the knees before the game. As we’ve heard so many times before, having Manning in at quarterback is like having your Offensive Coordinator out there on the field, managing the game. The man takes care of the football like it holds the secret to reversing hair loss. (So maybe I haven’t gotten over the forehead, but c’mon…have you seen that thing? It’s ENORMOUS.)
So expect a great game. Expect a shootout. Expect the Saints to come after Manning with all they’ve got. But don’t expect Manning to crumble; there’s no quarterback alive I’d rather have running my offense during the Super Bowl. Even if I don’t really want him playing with my kids.
GOING FOR TWO...Why Eric Karlan sees serendipity for the Saints
Forget about the numbers for a minute. Forget about how Drew Brees dazzled against defenses all season long. Forget about how the Saints defense significantly improved as the season progressed, turning New Orleans into a two-dimensional team. Forget about how Reggie Bush has emerged as a prolific kick returner.
Pundits and fans can point to any number of statistics in their arguments for why the Saints will win the franchise’s first Super Bowl this Sunday in Miami. But New Orleans has an intangible infinitely stronger than any shrewd coordinator or dominant lineman.
Some will thank God. Some will declare destiny. Some will see serendipity
What you call it is simply semantics. The Saints have higher powers on their side.
When New England’s dynasty comes to the Superdome on Monday Night Football and gets embarrassed in front of a national television audience, you know the Saints are blessed.
When Washington’s Shaun Suisham botches a 29-yard game-sealing kick in front of his home crowd, you know the Saints are fated to win it all.
When Minnesota, on the verge of kicking a conference-winning field goal, gets penalized for unthinkably having twelve men in the huddle, putting Brett Favre in a situation to throw an ill-advised across-the-body pass that gets intercepted, forcing overtime where New Orleans wins the toss and soon after the game, you know it’s just too good to be true.
There’s something in the Mississippi water. There’s a silent spirit roaming Bourbon Street. There’s a storybook ending in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.
In an age of sports where fantasy-obsessed fans crunch numbers ad nauseam and owners subscribe to a Moneyball mentality, we often overlook the crucial importance of chemistry, personality, and basic confidence. While the Saints do not enter Sunday with an unblemished record, they wield perfectly positive thinking. They know that, in spite of oddsmakers and expert predictions, they are supposed to win this Lombardi Trophy.
Impossible to quantify? Of course. Unbelievably important? Absolutely.
There is a reason this Sunday’s Super Bowl will be the first since 1993 to pit the number-one seed from each conference against each other. There is a reason so many wild card teams have won, let alone reached, the Super Bowl in recent history. Challenges during the regular season fuel fires to avenge disappointments and disprove doubters.
The Indianapolis Colts are prone to succumbing to what I call A.B.C. – the Atlanta Braves Complex. They breezed through the regular season with potent professionalism, but have not developed the heart or charisma to win on the big stage.
Despite earning the NFC’s top seed, the New Orleans Saints are the complete opposite. After decades of dismal displays, this Saints squad has lifted the spirits and hopes of an entire city still wallowing in the aftermath of Katrina. Every game has been special, every victory relished. Clutch plays and inexplicable luck have turned the Saints and their city not only into believers, but into knowers.
I know how this story will end, too.