This is what you wanted. Indianapolis started the season 14-0, and the Colts still might be undefeated if they didn’t place themselves in a protective bubble in the final two weeks. New Orleans started the season 13-0 and led the NFL this season in offense, points and humiliated defensive coordinators.
This is the way it’s supposed to go. The two best teams, led by the two best quarterbacks, driving two of the best offenses into the Super Bowl.
Only the coaches with a defensive pedigree will have a headache.
“It’s going to be a long week for the two defensive coordinators,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said Sunday night after watching the New Orleans Saints earn their first trip to a Super Bowl with a 31-28 overtime win over Minnesota. “They’ll be burning the midnight oil, trying to figure out how to stop the other quarterback. I don’t envy them. Well, I do envy them, actually. But, you know.”
This is the way things are supposed to work. Karma. Ain’t it great?
Some Falcons fans might not be thrilled with the Saints, their long-time rival, finally making it to the Super Bowl. But there is no more fun team to watch play in the NFL than the Saints, and the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina and the physical and financial ruin of one of the world’s most special cities makes it that much sweeter.
Only one thing could have made it better, and we got it: Brett Favre’s self immolation.
Favre orchestrated exits from the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets, all so he could play for the Minnesota Vikings following a protracted Hamlet act that kept the football world waiting. He threw for more than 300 yards Sunday night. But he committed
three of the Vikings’ five turnovers, including an interception with seven seconds left in regulation that prevented the them from attempting a game-winning field goal.
Then in overtime, Favre watched helplessly as the Saints won a coin flip and drove to a game-winning, 40-yard field goal. There was nothing he could do from the sideline.
Smith: “I noticed that.” (That’s all I could get out of him.)
The Saints vs. any team would make for a special Super Bowl. The fact they will face the Indianapolis Colts comes with some irony. Peyton Manning, the Colts’ quarterback, grew up in New Orleans a Saints fan. His father, Archie, was their quarterback.
The matchup of Manning vs. Drew Brees should, Smith said, “make for a lot of fireworks.” He knows both well. He faced Manning twice a year when he was Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator. He faces Brees twice a year now in the NFC South
Pick a winner?
Break it down?
“Obviously, they’re two great offenses. I think the thing it will come down to is which team protects their quarterback better. Both teams have pretty good pass rushes. But both quarterbacks will be hard to stop.”
Smith saw what happened to the Jets’ defense, and it looked familiar. New York got early pressure on Manning. Even sacked him a couple of times. But then the quarterback starting burning the Jets when they blitzed and picked apart their zone defenses when they didn’t. The Colts were held to two field goals in their first five possessions, then scored three touchdowns and a field goal in the next five. A 17-6 deficit turned into a 30-17 lead.
“It’s risk-reward when you blitz him,” Smith said. “The Jets were coming after him early. But once [the Colts] identified the looks, they had a better idea how to attack him. When they were in a zone, they took the short throws. When they saw pressure, they had one-on-one opportunities.
“I saw some of the same routes and same checks that he’s been doing for 10 years. You notice how many plays he takes down to the last second on the play clock before he snaps the ball? He gets an image of the defense. He wants to take it down to the last second before he decides what the best way to attack is.”
So how do you stop him?
“Sometimes making him go the long way is better,” he said. “When the Jets were winning, they were holding Indy to field goals. Play great red zone defense. Give them the short stuff. Tackle well, and knock the ball out when you can.”
Both defenses will be scrambling in two weeks. But Manning vs. Brees and Colts vs. Saints is the best show we could have hoped for.