Saints coach Sean Payton pushed all the right buttons, almost, in his team's 31-17 victory against the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday night in Sun Life Stadium.
But the one everyone was still talking about the day after the game was the onside kick that Payton boldly called for to start the second half. The Saints trailed 10-6 after two quarters and during the lengthy 30-minute halftime break Payton decided to make something happen.
Actually, he had his kickoff team work on the surprise kick during the bye week before the team headed to Miami, then decided during the week of preparation that it was going to be a part of the game plan.
Rookie punter Thomas Morstead executed the kick perfectly, with the ball bouncing off the helmet of Colts wide receiver Hank Baskett and Saints reserve safety Chris Reis recovered after a lengthy scrum.
The Saints, who had put up a 44-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley on the final play of the first half, and the big momentum shift to march to a quick touchdown and a 13-10 lead. It was the first onside kick prior to the fourth quarter in Super Bowl history.
Near the end of the first half, Payton decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 instead of kicking a short field goal. Running back Pierre Thomas was stopped for no gain and the Colts got the ball, but the Saints stopped them on three downs and the Saints got Hartley's field goal out of the change of possession.
Payton also successfully challenged a crucial two-point conversion pass from Drew Brees to Lance Moore that gave the Saints a 24-17 lead with less than six minutes left after the official ruled that Moore had possession of the ball following a replay.
While that was a big play because it gave the Saints a seven-point cushion, the onside kick will go down as one of the gutsiest calls in Super Bowl history.
"Credit the players. They did a great job of executing the surprise onside kick and made me look good," Payton said. "It gave us really an additional possession. It's much like a turnover. More importantly, after we obtained the ball, we were able to march down and score a touchdown and really create some momentum.
"The players did a great job of making me look good with that call. It was calculated. It was well thought-out by our special teams coaches. We felt like the risk-reward was worth it. In the end, we were able to gain an additional possession to score a touchdown, and the execution was outstanding."
The team announced plans to hold a parade, win or lose in Super Bowl XLIV, after the Saints won the NFC Championship and advanced to the title game for the first time in the 43-year history of the franchise.
In addition to their own parade, several Saints — including owner Tom Benson, coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees — will ride in some of the city's biggest carnival parades in the days leading up to Mardi Gras.
It was the first official act for Jackson and the other six men who will be inducted with him in August in the Hall of Fame's shrine in Canton, Ohio. Jackson is the first person from the Saints to be inducted into the Hall after spending the majority of his career with the club.
After taking it all in, Jackson watched the Super Bowl from Saints owner Tom Benson's suite.
In their two playoff wins that got them to the Super Bowl for the second time in four seasons, the Colts defense did not give up a second-half point in victories against the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets.
The Saints, who led the NFL in scoring in the regular season at 31.9 points a game, ended the Colts' scoreless streak on the first drive of the third quarter when Drew Brees hit Pierre Thomas with a little screen pass and Thomas weaved his way into the end zone from 16 yards out.
That opened the floodgates for the Saints, who wound up scoring 25 second-half points to down the Colts.
The only other player to do it was Jim McMahon, who led the Chicago Bears over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
Steve McNair was the only other starting quarterback to wear that number, but the Tennessee Titans fell to the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.
The only opponent in the past 10 games not to score on its first possession was the Tampa Bay Bucs in Week 16.
The Saints also earned $21,000 for playing in the divisional playoffs and $38,000 for participating in the NFC Championship Game. That brought their compensation for the postseason to $142,000 per player.
As good as the Indianapolis Colts offense has been this past season, and it was pretty good for most of the year, the lack of quality possessions was one of the differences in the team's Super Bowl XLIV loss to the New Orleans Saints.
"Every possession felt precious out there," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said after the game. "I was disappointed on the first series (of the game) having to settle for a field goal. Then we had a third-down drop (of a pass) which stopped another drive. Had a third drive where we got stopped and then moved the ball pretty well in the second half when we had it."
As much as offensive possessions, or rather the lack of them, was key, so was the inability of the Colts to come up with the football on an onsides kick attempt to begin the second half.
"The onside kick was huge. As a special teams captain on the team, I feel like we kind of didn't do what we were supposed to do. We always talk about the little thing and that (the onsides kick) was a little thing that was huge," said safety Melvin Bullitt.
"If we would've gotten the ball right there, maybe on the 40-yard line going in, the game could've went a totally different way. (New Orleans) scored on that drive immediately. And we just didn't capitalize on defense."
Another problem was an old one that raised its head once again — getting off the field defensively on third down.
"You have to put forth a better effort," said linebacker Clint Session. "You have to come together and do something, get off the field on third down."
Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney started the game at right end despite missing all of the team's practices since suffering a third-degree sprain and a torn ligament in his right ankle in the AFC Championship Game. He was very effective in the first half, showing his trademark spin moves and bull-rushing Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod right into the pocket for a sack of quarterback Drew Brees.
But the long halftime intermission gave the ankle time to stiffen up. Freeney had it re-wrapped and was seen changing socks on the sideline, but wasn't as effective in the second half as he was in and out of the game.
"I think, more or less, after the half there was more stiffness," Freeney said. "I kept on running back and forth (on the sideline), trying to get it going again. ... Obviously it wasn't 100 (percent). It was kind of hard. It loosened a little bit in the second half.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had opportunities we just weren't able to take advantage of them." — Colts TE Dallas Clark on losing to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.
"I think the Saints just made plays when they had to. The credit goes to them." — Colts LB Gary Brackett on the Super Bowl loss.