Saints make Colts look unprepared

Defensive end Anthony Hargrove (left) and Malcolm Jenkins celebrate after the Saints recover an onside kick at the start of the third quarter. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

MIAMI -- Reggie Wayne couldn't bring himself to admit he admired Sean Payton's intrepid call for an onside kick to open the second half of Super Bowl XLIV.

"I'm the one that's over here with my lip puffed out," Wayne said Sunday night in a tent outside Sun Life Stadium. "So apparently it was a good call."

Wayne and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts' offense were left standing on the sideline when the New Orleans Saints pulled off the big gamble.

Experience was supposed to be the difference-maker for the Colts. They'd been on this grand stage before. The Saints had not.

Yet, the Colts were caught unprepared.

The Saints recovered the kick and, six plays later, established themselves as an underdog on paper only. The Saints went on to win 31-17, and leave the Colts wondering about all the plays that got away.

"I didn't see it coming," Colts right tackle Ryan Diem said. "At that point in the game, I didn't expect them to do anything like that. The element of surprise got us."

Indianapolis was eager to get the ball first after halftime.

Peyton Manning directed the Colts' offense with his usual meticulousness in the first quarter. First possession: 11 plays, 53 yards, field goal. Second possession: 11 plays, 96 yards, touchdown.

Then came the second quarter. The Colts short-circuited, experiencing their first lamentable play. On third-and-4 from their 28-yard line, Manning zipped a short pass to Pierre Garcon. The play should have gone for a big gain, but Garcon dropped the ball.

"I seen it late, but I should've made the catch," Garcon said. "It was a great throw by Peyton. It should've been caught.

"It could've made the difference in the game."

Instead, the Colts were forced to punt for the first time. In the second quarter, they ran only six plays -- the second three-and-out series simply running out the clock. They gained 15 yards. They maintained possession for 2:34.

Still, the Colts seemed to be in control. They snuffed Saints running back Pierre Thomas on a fourth-and-goal run play that looked like it would doom Payton to a lifetime of second-guessing in New Orleans.

The double-team tackle by Colts linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session was the type of stop that championship teams make.

"The goal-line stand was big," Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said, "but you've got to play the rest of the game."

They led the Saints by four points at the extended Super Bowl intermission, and as Pete Townshend churned windmills on his guitar, the Colts strategized to bust the game open.

"In the locker room, we just talked about getting the ball back and going down and scoring some points and putting them in a hole," Wayne said.

The Saints concocted a plan to chop the Colts off at the knees. Thomas Morstead, who handles their kickoffs, was given the onside green light.

"Thomas came up and told me that we were running 'Ambush,' " field-goal kicker Garrett Hartley said. "To start off the second half of the Super Bowl, nothing like it. It's a gut shot, and it worked out in our favor."

Six plays later, Saints quarterback Drew Brees connected with Thomas on a 16-yard pass to give them a 13-10 lead.

"Every possession felt precious out there," Manning said.

The Colts did recover, mounting a typical 10-play, 76-yard drive to retake the lead on their next series.

But the tone had been set. The Saints were willing to trade shots all night, to get aggressive.

The Colts buckled.

"The Saints got some momentum there at the end of the first half and beginning of the third quarter and kind of kept the momentum from there," Manning said. "I thought we just didn't play well enough at certain times."

Indianapolis was outfoxed and outplayed by a team that hadn't been there, done that.