Colts' Effort Falls Short in Super Bowl XLIV Following Game-Changing Kick
MIAMI – The Colts' solemn expressions and watery eyes told you the final outcome of Super Bowl XLIV without even having to look up at the scoreboard.
A season filled with so many joyous moments and triumphant victories came to a disappointing end Sunday night, as the Indianapolis Colts fell short in Super Bowl XLIV, losing to the New Orleans Saints, 31-17.
The Colts began the game just as so many fans had dreamed, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and seemingly poised to capture their second Super Bowl championship in four years.
But the Saints – a team that had never won an NFL title until Sunday night – scored two field goals before the half and used an onside kick to start the third quarter to spark their comeback.
New Orleans' Thomas Morstead lined up as to kick the ball deep, only to instead squib a short kick to his left. The ball bounced off the turf of Sun Life Stadium, ricocheted off a Colts player and was recovered by Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas at his team's 42.
Three minutes later, the Saints scored a touchdown, their first of the game, and the Super Bowl's momentum had seen a drastic shift.
"They took a gamble, and it paid off," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said.
While the Colts would soon score a touchdown of their own – a spinning four-yard rush by running back Joseph Addai – to re-take the lead, the Saints then rattled off 17 unanswered points to seal the victory and earn their first Super Bowl title.
Caldwell said that although the special teams play changed the complexion of Sunday's game, it did not decide the outcome.
"It never comes down to just one single play," he said. "There are a lot of different things that happened in that game that could have put us in a little different position."
And while the play did not decide the game, Colts coaches and players said following the loss that the onside kick did, in fact, play a large role in Super Bowl XLIV.
Although the offense was able to move the ball effectively against the Saints (432 total yards), it was unable to score enough points in the second half to keep up with New Orleans' potent offense.
The Saints scored 25 points following halftime and seemed to click in all phases of the game following the onside kick.
"[It] was huge," Colts safety Melvin Bullitt said. "As the special teams captain, I feel like we didn't do what we were supposed to do. We always talk about the little things, and that was a little thing that was huge."
Bullitt and Caldwell both said that had the Colts recovered the kick, they would have had the ball at the Saints' 40-yard line with a 10-6 lead – an optimal position.
But instead, the ball bounced the Saints way, giving them a huge break and possession to begin both halves.
"It kind of negated the coin toss," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "That was disappointing and it certainly made it tough."
The Saints, owners of one of the NFL's top passing games during the regular season, found their comfort zone following that. Quarterback Drew Brees completed 32-of-39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, with both touchdown passes coming after the big special teams play.
"It was a big momentum swing coming out of the half like that," said tight end Dallas Clark, who finished with game with team-highs of seven catches and 86 yards to set an NFL post-season record for career receptions and receiving yards by a tight end. "I kind of had a feeling they were going to try and do something. They weren't getting much going offensively, so they had to get a spark somewhere."
"They played well in all phases," Manning said. "They made some critical plays on special teams, they were good on offense, and the defense made the plays they had to.
"They deserved it today."
The disappointment of the Super Bowl loss stung deeply for a Colts team within reach of their ultimate goal. After going 14-2 in the regular season and registering playoff victories over the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens leading up to Sunday's game, the AFC Champions could not come up with the storybook ending they were hoping to write in Miami.
After all, only one of the NFL's 32 teams can truly end a season happy.
"It is certainly disappointing," Manning said, "very disappointing."
What has been a truly sweet season ended on a sour note Sunday, but Manning said the Saints deserved to win with the way they played.
"It's the Super Bowl, you never know how it is going to turn out," he said. "I thought we started out hot and they got some momentum in the second half and kind of kept it there. We didn't play well enough at times and in certain phases, and they certainly did."