What We Learned: Super Bowl XLIV

Just like most football freaks, the Chicago Bears took in Super Bowl XLIV from the comfort of their own living rooms. By watching closely, there were lessons to be learned on both sides of the ball.

1. It boiled down to quarterback play just like it always does
The two QBs in Sunday's Super Bowl, Peyton Manning of the Colts and Drew Brees of the Saints, finished 1-2 in the MVP race this season, and even though Manning won going away, a convincing case could have been made for Brees. When Indianapolis opened the game with a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and threatened to blow New Orleans out of the building, it was Manning driving his offense down the field with incredible precision and looking unstoppable in the process. And when the boys from the bayou staged their epic comeback, it was Brees setting a title-game record with 32 completions without much help from the running game and not letting his unit commit a single turnover.

Brees was named the game's MVP, and with the Saints hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy for the first time since coming into existence in 1967, signing Brees as a free agent four years ago single-handedly changed the fate of an entire organization.

2. Rotating your running backs is the way to go these days
While it may have frustrated fantasy football players from coast to coast, the Saints were so efficient on offense all season long in part because they had three running backs sharing the workload. Pierre Thomas averaged 5.4 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns, Mike Bell lowered his shoulder to pick up the tough yards and recorded five TDs and Reggie Bush was the ultimate X-factor as a rusher, receiver and return man to reach paydirt a total of eight times. Brees had an incredible year throwing the ball and was the straw that stirred the Saints' drink, but don't forget that this team was sixth in the league in rushing at 131.6 yards per game and averaged 4.5 yards per attempt.

Although Matt Forte appears to be a good fit for Mike Martz's offense because he's a quality receiver out of the backfield, he's not Marshall Faulk and never will be.

3. Maybe you can design your D on getting takeaways after all
Nobody will ever confuse these Saints with a quality defensive squad, as they were 21st against the run, 26th against the pass and 25th overall in terms of total yards allowed. But defensive coordinator Greg Williams was continually aggressive despite a lack of talent, which led to 26 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries and helped New Orleans finish No. 3 in the NFL with a turnover ratio of plus-11. The Colts racked up 333 yards passing and 99 more on the ground, outgaining Brees and Co. 432-332, but Tracy Porter's INT returned 74 yards for a touchdown with 3:12 left in the game sunk Indianapolis for good.


WR Pierre Garcon
Getty Images: Ezra Shaw

Even though quite a few Bears fans have grown to loathe Lovie Smith's version of the Cover 2, the fact remains it worked just fine in the division-title years of 2005 and 2006 when it was forcing a plethora of turnovers.

4. The need for a primary receiver in the passing game is overstated
It's true that Reggie Wayne of the Colts and Marques Colston of the Saints are both considered No. 1 receivers in this league, something the Bears simply don't have no matter how many times Smith suggests Devin Hester belongs in their class. That being said, Wayne wasn't much of a factor in Super Bowl XLIV because the Saints rolled coverage his way, which allowed secondary wideouts Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon to catch 11 Manning passes for 132 yards and a touchdown combined. As for Colston, there were six games in 2009 when he caught three or fewer balls, yet New Orleans still averaged 28.3 points in those contests because Brees had seven different targets register at least 35 receptions during the regular season.

Lance Moore made one of the biggest and certainly one of the most impressive plays of the game with his acrobatic grab of a two-point conversion pass, yet seven Saints had more catches in the regular season than he did.

5. Nothing wrong with being a little reckless as a head coach
You have to tip your cap to Saints coach Sean Payton for the gunslinging way he goes about his business each and every Sunday, especially since Super Bowl Sunday was no exception. In a league riddled with overly-conservative coaches that choose to pooch punt on fourth-and-2 from the enemy 35-yard line, Payton did the unthinkable and called an onside kick to open the second half. New Orleans recovered, finished the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Thomas to take the lead 13-10 and played the rest of the game with a we-can't-lose swagger.

Chicago's Smith, always one of the most conservative coaches on game day, would be wise to roll the dice a little more often and inspire the kind of confidence Payton has instilled in his own roster.


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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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