**A Capsule Look at the Colts' Super Bowl XLIV Showdown Against the Saints
Indianapolis Colts (16-2) vs. New Orleans Saints (15-3)
Sunday, February 7, 2010 (6:25 p.m. EST)
Sun Life Stadium (74,000 capacity) – Miami Gardens, Florida
Television/Radio: CBS Sports and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1
It all comes down to this.
After a record-setting regular season and a triumphant run in the post-season, the Indianapolis Colts are now within reach of their ultimate goal.
On Sunday, the Colts will go for their fifth championship in franchise history, and their second in four years, when they take on the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.
Following victories over the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round and the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game, the Colts join an elite group in NFL history, becoming just the 13th franchise to have made at least four Super Bowl appearances. In addition, the Colts are the only NFL team to have made the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
But Indianapolis will not leave Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., satisfied this Sunday without a victory. To do so, they will have to defeat a talented Saints team, featuring one of the league's most potent offenses and opportunistic defenses.
"They present a lot of problems, obviously," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "Teams, when they get to this point, they don't have too many holes, and they certainly don't."
Sunday's game also pits the AFC and NFC's No. 1 playoff seeds against one another for the first time since 1993, adding even more excitement to what already is the NFL's most anticipated game of the year.
The Colts not only are returning to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years, but also to the city of Miami, where they defeated the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
That year, the Colts overcame a 14-6 deficit in a rain-soaked battle to beat the Bears, 29-17. Indianapolis outscored their NFC opponent 23-3 in the final 41 minutes.
Quarterback Peyton Manning was named the game's Most Valuable Player, while the team's rushing attack put together a 191-yard effort to boost the offense.
This year, the Colts hope to leave South Florida once again with the Vince Lombardi Trophy in hand.
Indianapolis defeated New Orleans in their last meeting, 41-10, in the RCA Dome during the 2007 season, but the Saints are a much different team than the one almost three years ago.
"We are fortunate and grateful to be back," Manning said. "But we are here with one goal in mind and that is to win the game."
Some players have been looking forward to this game all season. Others have been waiting their entire lives.
Nonetheless, when the Colts take the field Sunday there will be no need for any extra motivation.
"The Super Bowl is motivation enough," linebacker Gary Brackett said. "I don't think anyone's going to have to get excited to play this game. This is something you live for as a child. To be in this moment will be enough motivation in itself."
Sunday's game is the culmination of a season's worth of hard work and success, but the Colts know it is important to treat it like any other, which is the exact mindset Caldwell has instilled in his team.
On Friday, in his final press conference before Super Bowl XLIV, Caldwell said his team has had a great week of practice and is trying to keep its normal routine as much as possible.
"You can sometimes get out of whack thinking you have to do things differently for this game," Caldwell said. "But we don't believe that is required. We try and keep things as close to normal as we possibly can."
The Colts coach said no details are spared. Practice schedules are the same, as are team and positional meetings. He even said he wants his players eating as they would during the regular season.
"If a guy normally eats pizza on Thursday nights, he should eat pizza on Thursday night here, too," he said.
With the luxury of having 25 players left over from the team's Super Bowl XLI victory, the Colts are "relaxed as can be," according to guard Ryan Lilja.
"When we work, meet, or practice on the field, it's business as usual just like it is back in Indianapolis on your average Wednesday or Thursday or Friday," he said. "I like that, and I think everybody's just trying to do what we do and do it well."
Caldwell said the team has done an incredible job with its preparation the past two weeks, but warned, "The hay is not in the barn."
"We still have a lot of work to do," he said. "We have to be sharp and crisp. I think that's extremely important."
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE SAINTS
Although the Saints present numerous problems, there is no concern more pressing than stopping their passing attack.
Led by quarterback Drew Brees, New Orleans possesses one of the most versatile offenses in the league. While they are known for their aerial arsenal, they also boast the sixth-best rushing attack in the NFL.
"Other than ourselves, I think (they are the best)," Brackett said. "They are highly explosive and they have a lot of different weapons."
Several Colts pointed out that going against one of the NFL's best offenses in practice every day helps them prepare for opponents' high-octane offenses.
"After practicing against Peyton, you know we are going against the best every day," safety Melvin Bullitt said. "We have the best set of receivers and the best quarterback probably to ever play the game."
But the Saints have their share of riches as well.
Brees set an NFL record with a 70.6 completion percentage this season, while passing for 4,388 yards and league-best 34 touchdowns. In two post-season games, he has thrown for 444 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
In the backfield, running backs Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell give the Saints an array of options. The three combined for 1,837 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing during the regular season.
And the Saints also have five receivers who caught 40 or more passes this season, led by wide receiver Marques Colston (70 catches, 1,074 yards), Devery Henderson (51 catches, 804 yards) and tight end Jeremy Shockey (48 catches, 569 yards).
"There isn't one guy who you can pinpoint that the ball is going to," Brackett said.
On defense, the Saints ranked 25th overall in yards allowed per game during the regular season, but they are a team known for creating turnovers.
New Orleans recorded 26 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles during the regular season, giving them the second-most turnovers in the league (39), while also boasting the third-best turnover ratio ( 11).
In the playoffs, the Saints have continued their ball-hawking habits, racking up seven takeaways and turning the ball over just once in two games.
Leading their defense are linebacker Jonathan Vilma (110 tackles) and safety Darren Sharper, who tied for the league lead with nine interceptions in 2009.
"I expect it is going to be a challenge to try and move the ball against them," Manning said. "They have excellent players and are very active. They know how to get their hands on the football. All those characteristics combined make it a tough defense. I think we are going to have our work cut out for us."
The Colts issued the game status/injury report on Friday with the following players listed as probable for Sunday's game against New Orleans: RBs-Joseph Addai (shoulder), Donald Brown (foot) and Mike Hart (ankle), DBs-Antoine Bethea (back), Melvin Bullitt (knee) and Aaron Francisco, LB-Gary Brackett (knee), OTs-Ryan Diem (knee), Charlie Johnson (foot) and Tony Ugoh (knee), DT-Antonio Johnson (shoulder), OGs-Ryan Lilja (back) and Jamey Richard (shoulder), DE-Robert Mathis (shoulder), Ks-Matt Stover (left calf) and Adam Vinatieri (right hip), TE-Jacob Tamme (ankle) and WR-Reggie Wayne (knee).
DE-Dwight Freeney (ankle) and DB-Jerraud Powers (foot) are listed as questionable.
Freeney did not participate in Friday's practice, while Powers and Wayne were listed as limited participation. All other players listed on the injury report participated fully on Friday.
• "It's like a little kid on the first day of school. In your mind, you're laying there just thinking about making a play, what can happen, little butterflies here and there, a little anxiousness. You're having a good time just thinking about it. As a kid, this is what you think about growing up playing football, so there's a lot of things going on in your mind." – Colts safety Antoine Bethea on what runs through his head at night the week of the Super Bowl
• "For me this season, the most popular play this season is the fourth and two against the New England Patriots. That play definitely stands out when you're talking about transforming or defining my season and the way I played this year. That play really was against one of our biggest rivalry teams, and it's just a good feeling to come back in the fourth quarter like we did. It was a great effort by our team. We got the ball back, went down the field and scored." – Colts safety Melvin Bullitt on the season's most memorable play
• "Winning. Winning, winning, winning. That was the beauty of it. It was two weeks of a bunch of media. I remember after the game was over, I'm celebrating with my teammates and it's 15 minutes after the game and I'm still seeing Chicago Bears walking off the field. That's a feeling that you understand is not easy to handle, so the best way to not experience that is to win the game. That's what our focus is and hopefully we can get it done." -- Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne on the best part about Super Bowl XLI
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1) MANNING VS. BREES
Of the 44 Super Bowls in history, Sunday's game might be the best quarterback match-up of all-time.
Manning (4,500) and Brees (4,388) combined for 8,888 passing yards during the regular season, the highest total of any Super Bowl quarterback matchup in history. In addition, the two also combined to throw 67 touchdowns this year, the third-most in Super Bowl history.
"They're two of the best quarterbacks in the league, students of the game," safety Antoine Bethea said. "They're both good at their crafts and similar in some ways, different in others."
Although the Saints have faced two future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks in Kurt Warner and Brett Favre this post-season, Head Coach Sean Payton said Manning is in a league of his own.
"He's done it over a long period of time. His staying power, consistency and approach is so unique," Payton said. "We have a lot of respect for his abilities and what they do offensively."
2) FREENEY AND POWERS
In his final meeting with the media Friday, Caldwell noted the improvement of injured defensive end Dwight Freeney and cornerback Jerraud Powers.
"He's trending in the right direction," Caldwell said of Freeney, who is suffering from an ankle injury. "He's getting better, but we'll see. It's still a day-to-day situation."
As for Powers, Caldwell said the rookie cornerback is "feeling good," but said the team would continue to evaluate his progress.
"He feels he'll be ready to play," Caldwell said. "The rest is just kind of up to the doctors and ourselves. What type of movement skills he has, if he is able to run without any inhibitions and so on. But I think he's moving along, moving well and we'll see.
"He feels great about it, so if he feels good, that makes me feel even better."
While Freeney and Powers are listed as questionable and it won't be clear as to whether either will play in the Super Bowl until Sunday, their teammates know that whoever takes the field in blue is going to step up.
"We live by the mantra, 'next man up,'" Brackett said. "So if Dwight is not able to go, we get the next guy in line and they have to go out and perform."
3) RUNNING TO SUCCESS
In Super Bowl XLI, the Colts received a huge boost from their running game.
On Sunday, the team is hoping history repeats itself.
While both the Colts and the Saints are known best for their passing games, Super Bowl XLIV could ultimately come down to what the teams accomplish on the ground.
Against the Bears three years ago, the Colts ran for 191 yards. Running back Joseph Addai, then a rookie, ran 17 times for 77 yards and had 143 total yards in that game.
And although the Colts struggled at times to run the ball during the regular season, Addai said he is confident he and rookie running back Donald Brown can get the job done on Sunday.
"I think in any game, it's really important (to be able to run)," Addai said. "But in this game, I feel like it's even more important. You want to run the ball well to keep the offense balanced and to keep the defense on its toes."
Like any running back, Addai said he always welcomes more carries. But what's most important is doing whatever it takes to come out on top.
"It comes down to being a team player and getting those W's," he said. "And that's what we've been doing."