MIAMI — With completion after completion, Drew Brees was completely amazing on Sunday night in his first Super Bowl appearance.
His performance, combined with a daring decision by his head coach Sean Payton, allowed the New Orleans Saints to pull off a 31-17 upset of the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV at Sun Life Stadium.
Brees completed 29 of his final 32 passes — one of the incompletions was a time-killing spike — to lead the Saints to their first NFL title in franchise history.
After squandering a couple of scoring opportunities in the first half, the Saints generated momentum at the start of the second half when Payton ordered an onside kick. The gamble was successful and the Saints cashed in with a touchdown to take their first lead of the game.
Brees was at his best on his team's go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter when he completed all seven of his passes for 44 yards, ending the drive with a 2-yard touchdown throw to tight end Jeremy Shockey.
He followed that throw with a two-point conversion pass to Lance Moore that put the Saints up by 24-17 with 5 minutes, 42 seconds remaining.
That left the game in the hands of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, and he took Indianapolis from its own 30 to the Saints' 31-yard line, but on a third-and-5 play he appeared to have a miscommunication with veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
The result was a 74-yard interception return by cornerback Tracy Porter that triggered a wild celebration on the Saints' sideline and on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Brees, who finished the game 32 for 39 for 288 yards, was named the Super Bowl MVP.
The game's biggest gamble paid an enormous dividend for the Saints, and was a nightmare for former Eagles receiver Hank Baskett.
Trailing by 10-6 to start the second half, Saints coach Sean Payton ordered an onside kick, and kicker Thomas Morstead sent the ball in Baskett's direction. When Baskett failed to secure the football, a mad scramble ensued in front of the New Orleans' bench. When the chaos and confusion ended a few minutes later, referee Scott Green ruled that the Saints' Chris Reis had recovered.
Brees, who had finished the first half white hot, picked up where he left off, leading New Orleans on a six-play touchdown drive by completing all five of his passes, for 51 yards. The final throw was a 16-yard touchdown toss to running back Pierre Thomas.
That triggered the shoot-out that so many had anticipated between the NFL's two best quarterbacks this season.
Manning's answer was a 10-play, 70-yard drive that was capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Joseph Addai. The Colts quarterback completed all five of his passes on the drive, but none was bigger than an amazingly placed throw to tight end Dallas Clark on third and 4 from the Saints' 47-yard line.
One play after another third-down conversion to Clark, Addai spun off a tackle attempt by linebacker Jonathan Vilma and into the end zone for a touchdown that gave the lead back to Indianapolis, 17-13.
Brees and the Saints had to settle for a 47-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley on their next possession, cutting the Indianapolis lead to a point, but then the New Orleans defense responded with a stop and forced a 51-yard field-goal attempt by Stover that was wide left and short.
That set the stage for another brilliant drive by Brees as he led the Saints 59 yards, ending with a 2-yard touchdown throw to Shockey and an acrobatic two-point conversion reception by Moore to put New Orleans up by seven.
The conversion was initially ruled incomplete, then challenge by the Saints and reversed.
Two Indianapolis possessions into the game, it appeared Manning and the Colts were about to pin a beating on the Saints.
Manning completed 6 of 8 passes for 53 yards on the Colts' first possession, which ended with a 38-yard field goal by Stover. The 42-year-old kicker became the oldest player to score points in a Super Bowl, on the same night when The Who's Roger Daltrey became the oldest man to perform during the halftime show.
(Daltrey and his bandmate Pete Townshend performed a fine geriatric act, too.)
After an awful dropped pass by a wide-open Marques Colston aborted the Saints' second drive, Manning and the Colts went 96 yards on 11 plays to match the longest touchdown drive in Super Bowl history.
This drive, however, was spurred by the Colts' rushing attack, which had finished last in the league during the regular season. Addai ran three times for 53 yards, including a 26-yard run that took the ball to the Saints' 23.
Manning put the finishing touch on it when he found receiver Pierre Garcon running past Roman Harper and into the end zone. Manning hit the second-year receiver in stride for a 19-yard touchdown that gave Indianapolis a 10-0 first-quarter lead.
After managing just one first down in the opening quarter, Brees and the Saints' offense started to roll in the second quarter. Brees, who had been 3 for 7 in the opening quarter, went 13 for 15 for 137 yards in the second.
Nevertheless, the Saints had to settle for a couple of field goals.
Defensive end Dwight Freeney, playing on a sprained right ankle, forced the first one — a 46-yarder by Hartley — when he sacked Brees on a third-and-3 play from the Colts' 22-yard line.
Glassboro High's Gary Brackett came up with a huge defensive play later in the quarter to prevent a New Orleans score. The Saints, behind six completions for 75 yards by Brees, had gone from their own 28 to the Colts' 1-yard line.
Just after the two-minute warning, with New Orleans facing fourth and goal from the 1, the Colts called a time-out in the hope of giving Manning a chance to run a two-minute drill. The Saints opted to go for it on fourth down, but Brackett stood up Thomas at the 1.
After New Orleans forced a punt, Brees moved the Saints into field-goal range, and Hartley connected on a 44-yarder as the half ended.
It was a sign of things to come from the underdog Saints.