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The Colts, while disappointed in a 31-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV Sunday, had much about which to be proud in 2009, Head Coach Jim Caldwell said.


Super Bowl XLIV Disappointment Will Be Used as 'Fuel,' Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell Says

As Jim Caldwell saw it, the New Orleans Saints deserved credit. A lot of it.

In the aftermath of Super Bowl XLIV, in the dark, somber post-game interview tent, Caldwell – the Colts' first-year head coach – made sure he expressed that clearly.

Yes, he said the Colts were disappointed, but not ashamed. And there were things the Colts could have done differently. But the Saints won the game.

And they deserved to be champions.

"They did a tremendous job," Caldwell said moments after the Colts' 31-17 loss to the Saints at Sun Life Stadium in South Florida Sunday night.

The Colts, the AFC South Champions six of the past seven seasons and AFC Champions two of the last four, finished the season 16-3, tying the franchise record for most victories in a season, with the Saints (16-3) winning their first Super Bowl title.

"Obviously, these guys can hold their heads up," Caldwell, the fifth rookie head coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl, said of the Colts. "They fought all season long. They performed well all season long. We'll just use this disappointment as fuel for next year.

"As soon as we get over it, we'll look and try to mold this team and see if we can get back here next year."

The Colts won Super Bowl XLI in South Florida following the 2006 season.

"I certainly know how excited our team was three years ago, and how excited our fans in the city of Indianapolis were three years ago," said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who won his NFL-record fourth Most Valuable Player award during the regular season.

"So I understand how excited the Saints' players are, their families and the city of New Orleans is going to be. But, obviously, on behalf of the Colts and our team, we're very disappointed and sorry to our fans.

"I'm sorry to our fans that we weren't able to get it done."

Said Caldwell, "We certainly admire what the team (New Orleans) has done and we certainly understand the tough time the city is going through in that region, the Gulf Coast region. We're obviously still disappointed in the fact that we lost. The goal and aim is to win.

"We certainly feel they're an excellent team and certainly deserving of the championship."

The Colts, who during the regular season set an NFL regular-season record with 23 consecutive victories – a streak that began midway through 2008 – on Sunday led the Saints after each of the first three quarters. They led 10-0 after the first quarter, 10-6 after the second and 17-16 after the third, but the Saints scored the final 18 points en route to their first Super Bowl title.

A key to the game, Caldwell said afterward, came in the second quarter.

In that quarter, the Saints cut into the Colts lead with two field goals, and after the Colts produced 154 first-quarter yards, the Saints held Indianapolis to six plays and 15 yards in the second.

"They certainly controlled the ball on us in that second quarter," Caldwell said.

For the game, the Colts had just eight possessions, and despite outgaining the Saints 432-332, they had one score on their final six drives.

"We didn't have many opunities," Caldwell said. "I think when you look at time of possession and that situation, they did a great job moving the ball. We weren't able to convert on (a first-half) 3rd-and-1 and we dropped the third down (reception in the first half). Those opportunities you just can't let slip by against a good football team. . . .

"There are a lot of things you can take a look at. We were moving the ball fairly well, I think. It's just opportunities. We just didn't have enough and when we got the opportunities, we had to have been able to score points against a good team. We certainly didn't do that in that situation."

Another key, Caldwell said, came on the first play of the second half, when the Saints opted for an onside kick and recovered at their 42. The Saints then drove 58 yards for a touchdown and their first lead of the game, 13-10.

"It was certainly a bold call in that situation," Caldwell said. "It gave them momentum because obviously, they took it down the field and scored. Had it been a situation where we had stopped them from scoring, it's a different story. They took a gamble. It paid off for them, and certainly changed the momentum of the game at that point.

"But I think we recaptured it. We just didn't execute well enough down the stretch like we typically do."

The Colts retook the lead on the ensuing series with a four-yard run by running back Joseph Addai – "Joseph ran the ball well; he was effective," Caldwell said – but the Saints pulled to within one by the end of the third quarter and took the lead when Saints quarterback Drew Brees – named the game's Most Valuable Player – threw a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Trailing by seven, the Colts drove to the Saints 31, and on 3rd-and-5, Saints cornerback Tracy Porter returned the game's lone interception 74 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.

"I think anytime, obviously, you fall short of you goal – and your goal is to win it all, you've been disappointed," Caldwell said. "Our team is certainly disappointed. There's only one happy team at the end of the year. That's the goal and aim, to win it all, to win the Lombardi Trophy, and we failed at that. So, we're proud of the way they fought all year long. They did a great job of representing our franchise, our organization. They did a tremendous job during the regular season, but you don't get any trophies for the regular season.

"We're going to take our disappointment, let it fuel us a little bit and see what 2010 brings us."

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