Will the Saints become a dynasty?

I know what you’re thinking: Great, the Saints win one Super Bowl and now the media wants to anoint them the Steelers of the 70s, the 49ers of the 80s or the Cowboys of the early 90s.

Relax – I’m not doing that. But I bring the topic up because there’s a case to be made that the Saints have all the pieces in place to become a mini-dynasty this decade.

Over the next couple weeks, the Saints will ensure that centerpiece Drew Brees finishes his career in New Orleans by giving him a very large contract extension. Whenever the time is right, they’ll also do the same with head coach Sean Payton and make sure that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is happy where he’s at in order to keep their two playcallers intact for years to come as well.

With those three vital pieces in place, the Saints could challenge for multiple Super Bowls and not be a one-year wonder. Continuity breeds success and considering they have a family-like atmosphere in their locker room, the team won’t have a hard sell on its hands in trying to bring free agents like Darren Sharper back to New Orleans next season.

But as I’ve highlighted below (after the jump), they do have some huge hurdles to overcome if they want to build upon their success from the 2009-2010 season.

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Freeney shows his toughness in Super Bowl

One player that will be overlooked in the Colts’ crushing 31-17 loss to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV is Dwight Freeney, who played the entire game despite having a tear in his right ankle.

Freeney missed two weeks of practice in hopes that his ankle would be completely healed by kickoff and while he wasn’t 100%, he gutted the pain out and turned in a banner first half. In fact, he made one of the best plays of the half when he sacked Drew Brees and forced the Saints to settle for a field goal attempt when they were driving deep into Indianapolis territory in the second quarter.

But following the game, Freeney admitted that the long layoff for halftime hampered his ability to play in the second half. He said his ankle stiffened up and despite his best efforts to loosen up on the sidelines, he just wasn’t the same player that he was in the first half.

Regardless, his teammates respected his effort.

From ESPN.com:

“He worked is tail off, three, four times a day,” Colts safety Melvin Bullitt said. “I knew he was going to play. There was no doubt in my mind he wouldn’t. That’s just the type of person Dwight is. It’s hard we couldn’t get the win for him with him coming back so soon off an injury like that. It’s very disappointing. He came up with a big play at a crucial time for us.”

We could play the “what if” game until we’re blue in the face. But had Freeney been healthy and played the entire game at 100%, there’s a possibility that Brees wouldn’t have completed 32-of-39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns.

Of course, none of that matters to Freeney or the Colts but considering many people (myself included) thought he wouldn’t be effective, what he did in the first half was impressive.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Brees completes true underdog story

It takes a special person to turn rejection into greatness.

Some forget that Doug Flutie replaced Drew Brees during the 2003 regular season because the former second round pick couldn’t get the job done. That prompted the Chargers to acquire Philip Rivers in the 2004 draft and had he not held out that year, San Diego may have never taken another look at Brees.

Brees played well in 2004 and 2005, which is why he was able to stick around in San Diego as long as he did. But the Bolts faced a major decision at the end of the 2005 season about what to do with Brees and Rivers. Do they commit to Brees and trade Rivers? Do they let Brees walk in free agency and go with an unproven Rivers?

That decision was essentially made for them when Brees suffered a shoulder injury in the last game of the ’05 season. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder and when he went back to the Chargers looking for a new deal, they offered him a five-year, $50 million contract that paid only $2 million in base salary the first year and the rest was heavily saturated in performance incentives.

The Chargers essentially offered him a deal they knew he would reject, which he did before hitting the open market. The team he wanted to play for, the Dolphins, was interested but they used his shoulder injury as an excuse to pass on him and sign Daunte Culpepper instead. The only team that showed any true trust in him was the Saints, whom he eventually signed with in March of 2006.

Fast-forward four years to Sunday night in Miami. After shaking off a jittery first quarter, Brees went on to complete 32-of-39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints’ 31-17 win over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. He earned the MVP trophy by outplaying Peyton Manning, which is no easy feat. Brees was absolutely brilliant, as the Saints relied on him and the passing game the entire night. They trusted him to win them their first ever Super Bowl, just as they trusted him in ’06 when they were the only team that was truly interested.

But despite the fact that he’s now a Super Bowl and MVP winner, what makes Brees special is not his on-field heroics. He’s special because at no time did he ever complain about his situation or seek revenge on the Chargers and Dolphins for taking a pass. Instead, he took everything in stride, embraced the city of New Orleans and turned a bunch of negatives into one huge positive. Not everyone can do that and that is what makes Brees’ story so impressive.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Manning comes up short in the postseason once again

If one were to look up Peyton Manning’s stats from Super Bowl XLIV, they would assume that he did enough to propel his team to a victory. After all, he completed 31-of-45 passes for 333 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

But as has been the case his entire career, Manning’s numbers weren’t enough.

Football is a team sport and one play doesn’t settle the outcome of a game. But when Tracy Porter intercepted Manning (who forced a pass into Reggie Wayne in the face of a New Orleans’ blitz) and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth, it sealed the Colts’ fate. In essence, Manning delivered the nail in the coffin for his own team, although it isn’t a surprise that he failed in the postseason.

The Colts have been very average in the postseason with Manning under center. Don’t believe me? Even with their Super Bowl victory four years ago, Indy is just 9-9 in the postseason with Manning as their starter. Considering he’s referred to as one of the best to have ever played the game, is it a stretch to say that the Colts should be better than that? I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong: Peyton Manning is brilliant. He’s always the most prepared player on the field at all times and he’s the definition of being a student of the game. But isn’t this always the same story with him? Aren’t we always talking about his numbers and forgetting the fact that he only has one Super Bowl victory despite countless appearances in the postseason? Something is wrong here.

Manning wasn’t the only reason the Colts lost tonight. Had they recovered the onsides kick to start the first half and scored, they would have stolen all the momentum from the game and probably would have won. Had they sustained the momentum from the first quarter (a quarter in which they absolutely dominated), they probably would have won. Had their defense produced more second half stops, they probably would have won.

But I can’t shake the fact that when the Colts needed him most, Manning threw a pick six to essentially ensure a Saints’ victory. That’s not to take anything away from the Saints because they played great, but if we’re going to talk about Peyton being one of the best ever, then he needs to win this type of game. (After all, Joe Montana was 4-0 in the Super Bowl and Tom Brady was 3-1.)

It wouldn’t surprise me if Manning won another Super Bowl before his career is finished. But until then, let’s slow down with all the “best ever” talk, shall we?

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Despite Payton’s mistakes, the Saints emerge victorious in Super Bowl XLIV

There’s a difference between being risky and being stupid and Sean Payton straddled that line all night tonight.

With the Colts ahead 10-3 late in the first half and his team facing a 4th and 1 from the one-yard line, I thought Payton did the right thing by winding the clock down to the two-minute warning before making a decision on whether or not to go for it or kick a field goal. Unfortunately for the Saints, he arguably made the wrong decision by going for it as Pierre Thomas slipped and was stopped short of the goal line.

Forget the fact that Thomas slipped – it was a dumb decision by Payton. Not to go for it mind you – one could debate that it was a decent call given the score and situation. But calling a running play out the single back formation when he has a quarterback like Drew Brees running his offense just wasn’t a smart decision by Payton. I could go as far as to say it was a horrendous play call and he was lucky that his defense produced a three and out on the Colts’ next series and wound up still getting a field goal to cut the Colts’ lead to 10-6 right before half anyway.

Then to open the second half, Payton called a surprise onsides kick and had the Colts player fielded it cleanly, the Saints would have been screwed with horrible field position and a total lack of momentum. Payton once again came up lucky that 1) the Colts player mishandled it and 2) the Saints jumped on it, or else Indy might have ran out to an early double-digit lead early in the second half.

But despite all that, the New Orleans Saints are Super Bowl Champions. Despite all of Payton’s mistakes, the Saints were still able to execute. Despite getting dominated in the first quarter, the Saints didn’t freak out and the wound up being victorious in the end. Despite having so much go against them early on, the Saints were the team that showed enough grit and determination in the end to beat an opponent that had just won the Super Bowl four years ago and that had the Hall of Fame quarterback.

And you know what? That’s a testament to Sean Payton.

The Saints have had their backs against the wall several times this season, including near losses in Miami and Washington during the regular season, as well as when they entered the postseason as losers of three straight. But their head coach never wavered in his confidence for his team and they repaid him by showing their confidence in him. Forget destiny – the Saints won because they all bought into Payton’s philosophy. Brees may be the face of the franchise, but Payton is the heart and soul.

A team that didn’t have as much trust in their head coach would have lost tonight. But because the Saints backed Payton, they were able to overcome his mistakes and dominate three of the four quarters to become Super Bowl champs. It takes a special team to do what Payton’s Saints just did.

I’ll be doing more Super Bowl XLIV recap posts, so make sure to click here for more coverage.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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