'A BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW'

The New Orleans Saints beat the Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV at Sun Life Stadium in South Florida Sunday night.

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New Orleans Saints beat Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV

FORT LAUDERDALE – The stage was set and the situation was very, very familiar.

But on the NFL's biggest stage, after coming from behind to win an NFL-record seven times in the fourth quarter during a memorable, regular season, the Colts for once this season didn't rally.

Tracyer, a cornerback from Indiana University, returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown with 3:12 remaining in the fourth quarter, all but clinching a 31-17 come-from-behind victory for the New Orleans Saints (16-3) over the Colts (16-3) in Super Bowl XLIV at Sun Life Stadium Sunday night.

"Anytime you lose the last game of the season, it's difficult," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "Particularly on this stage, in this particular game, it's a bitter pill to swallow."

The loss ended one of the Colts' most successful seasons in franchise history in disappointing fashion. The Colts won their first 14 regular-season games, finished with the AFC's best record, and won the AFC South title for the sixth time in seven seasons.

They also stretched their NFL-record regular-season winning streak to 23 games, finishing the decade of the 2000s with more victories – 115 – than any team in any decade in NFL history.

"I felt like we played well this post-season," said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who completed 31 of 45 passes for 333 yards and a touchdown with one interception. "We played well in our first playoff game, played well two weeks ago, and at times, we made some plays against the Saints.

"Obviously, we didn't make enough plays. We just didn't play well enough to win."

The Colts, after leading, 10-6, at halftime, fell behind 13-10 early in the second half, but rallied to lead, 17-16 entering the fourth quarter.

That was when the Saints took control.

First, after Colts kicker Matt Stover missed a 51-yard field goal, the Saints drove 59 yards on a nine-play possession, taking the lead with 5:42 remaining when Saints quarterback Drew Brees – the game's Most Valuable Player – threw a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey, a play that made it 22-17.

A two-point conversion, initially ruled incomplete, was reversed to push the lead to 24-17.

Manning drove the Colts 39 yards on the next possession, but on 3rd-and-5 from the Saints 31, the Saints blitzed and Manning threw to wide receiver Reggie Wayne.

Potrter intercepted and scored to push the lead to 14.

"We've been able to do a lot of things all season from behind and we just weren't able to capitalize," Colts tight end Dallas Clark said. "We weren't able to execute and you've got to give them credit for making plays."

The Saints took the lead early in the third quarter after an emotional, momentum-changing swing to start the second half.

The Saints, trailing 10-6 at halftime, recovered an onside kick that bounced off the hands and helmet of reserve wide receiver Hank Baskett. After an extended scramble, officials ruled that New Orleans had recovered. The Saints then drove efficiently for the go-ahead score.

"That play didn't help us out at all," Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon said of the onside kick.

New Orleans moved 58 yards on the possession, with a 16-yard screen pass from Brees to running back Pierre Thomas, giving the Saints their first lead.

But the Colts on the ensuing series, they moved 76 yards, with running back Joseph Addai's four-yard, tackle breaking run giving the Colts a 17-13 lead on a drive keyed by a crucial, accurate pass from Manning to Clark. On 3rd-and-4 from the Saints 47, Manning rolled right and threw a 27-yard pass to Clark, who caught the pass with four defenders around him.

The drive covered 76 yards, using 10 plays, but the Saints pulled to within one on their ensuing series with a 47-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley, his third of the game.

The Colts, who trailed throughout much of the first half of their last Super Bowl appearance, started markedly differently on Sunday.

After the Saints won the toss, the Colts stopped New Orleans on three plays, then drove 53 yards on 11 plays, taking a 3-0 lead when Matt Stover – at 42, the oldest player ever to play in the Super Bowl – converted a 38-yard field goal with 7:29 remaining in the first quarter.

The Colts' defense, which played active and fast early, held New Orleans to a first down on the ensuing series, then the offense put together one of the most impressive drives in Super Bowl history.

Starting from their 4-yard line, the Colts drove 96 yards, using just 4:36 before Manning passed 19 yards to wide receiver Garcon on 3rd-and-6. Garcon got off the line quickly on the play and caught a pass on the run in the back of the end zone for a 10-0 Colts lead.

The drive was the Colts' longest of the season.

It also tied the record for the longest drive in Super Bowl history, giving the Colts a 10-point lead with 36 seconds remaining in the quarter.

The Saints dominated the second quarter, but despite holding the Colts to six plays and 15 yards, New Orleans managed just two field goals in the period.

New Orleans drove 60 yards on 11 plays on their first possession of the period, cutting Indianapolis' lead to seven – 10-3 – with a 46-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley with 9:34 remaining in the half.

A dropped pass by Garcon forced a punt on the ensuing possession, after which the Colts turned in one of their most impressive defensive stands of a season that has featured several big performances by the unit in goal-line situations.

New Orleans used 10 plays to drive to the Colts 1, but after Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden stopped Saints running back Mike Bell for a slight loss on third down, Saints Head Coach Sean Payton opted to go for the touchdown on fourth down.

The Saints tried running back Pierre Thomas to the right side, but linebacker Gary Brackett, defensive tackle Eric Foster and linebacker Clint Session combined to stop him for no gain with 1:49 remaining.

Three Colts running plays netted just nine yards, and after a punt, the Saints drove 26 yards on five plays to set up Hartley's second field goal.

This one was a 44-yarder that was good as time ran out in the first half, putting the Saints in position for a second-half rally and a dramatic fourth quarter.

"This is a tough feeling," Session said. "You let the city down. We let ourselves down. We let the staff down. They're not playing. We're out there playing.

"I don't know, man. It's tough. It's a tough loss."

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