MIAMI — Sean Payton put in an MVP-like performance.
From the sideline.
The New Orleans coach made all the right calls in the Super Bowl — even one that didn't look so good at first, well, it turned out just fine. Thanks in large part to Payton's bravado, the Saints won the first Super Bowl title in their franchise's largely dismal history, beating that other Peyton — you know, Manning — and the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 Sunday night.
Payton will go down in Super Bowl lore for calling an onside kick at the start of the second half — the first time it had been attempted in this game before the desperation of the fourth quarter. The Saints recovered and drove down for a touchdown that put them ahead for the first time, 13-10.
But let's not forget a couple of other calls by the brash coach.
Near the end of the first half, with his team trailing 10-3, Payton decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal from just outside the 1 instead of kicking a chip-shot field goal. When Pierre Thomas was stuffed for no gain, it looked as though Payton might be remembered for a big blunder.
But the Colts couldn't do much, backed up against their own end zone, and were forced to punt it away. The Saints took over at their 48 with 35 seconds left — enough time to get back in position for Garrett Hartley, who knocked through a 44-yard field goal on the final play of the half, making sure Manning didn't get it back.
Payton, it turned out, was just getting warmed up.
While The Who was rockin' out at halftime, Payton was deciding to take an even bigger gamble. Thomas Morstead moved forward slowly, as if ready to swing his right foot into the ball like any other kickoff. Suddenly, the pigskin was dribbling along the ground, headed toward Hank Baskett.
The ball bounced off the chest of the Colts receiver, setting off a mad scramble that took more than a minute to sort out. Finally, the officials made their call.
Saints ball. Jonathan Casillas had it.
With the Colts back in front 17-16 and the game getting deep in the fourth quarter, Drew Brees directed a nine-play, 59-yard drive that finished with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey. The next call was a no-brainer, go for 2 in hopes of making it a seven-point game.
Brees threw a low pass toward Lance Moore, who bobbled the ball before regaining control right at the goal line. The official immediately ruled incomplete, but Payton wasn't going to take that for an answer. No doubt aided by his assistants upstairs who had a look at the replay, the coach decided to challenge the call.
If the referee had ruled against New Orleans, it would have cost them a potentially crucial timeout in a tight game. But the replay showed that Moore did have control and got across the line for a 24-17 lead instead of 22-17.
Tracy Porter clinched it for the Saints with a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown, and Payton was reticent about accepting any praise.
"It's really a credit to everyone, these players here," he said. "They carried out the plan."
But, as the final seconds ticked off, the players sought out their coach.
Payton was lifted into the air and hauled to the middle of the field above everyone else.
Just like an MVP.