FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Indianapolis Colts do shootouts as well as, if not better than, any team in the NFL.
Peyton Manning vs. Drew Brees? As prolific as Brees has been in leading the Saints to their first Super Bowl, Manning brings more of the credentials necessary to win on the game's grandest stage because, one, he has done it before while Brees hasn't, and, two, he is one of the league's all-time greatest clutch performers.
"I have all the confidence in the world (that the Colts could win a Super Bowl shootout)," center Jeff Saturday said. "I think the one strength that we've shown throughout the entire season is, regardless of what the score looks like, we're not out of it. Nobody throws the towel in. Nobody thinks, 'We can't get this done, we can't overcome what situation we're in.' We can score quickly if we have to."
Said defensive end Robert Mathis: "We're comfortable because we feel like we have the best quarterback in the NFL, but we don't want this to be a shootout because that means the defense is not doing our job. But you can't go into this game being naïve and thinking you're going to shut them out. You just have to try to contain them. If they knock you down five times, you've got to be able to get up six times."
The Colts are more than capable of doing that because of Manning, an offense that throws the ball constantly, and an incredibly deep group of receivers who match up well with any secondary.
"Oh yeah, I'm very comfortable," wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. "We have Peyton, and we always try to score on every drive. A shootout is nothing new for us. The Saints offense is very explosive; they can put up a lot of points. We have a lot of confidence in our defense to do well, but if it's a shootout I wouldn't mind that at all."
» The Saints, who were not playing particularly well late in the regular season and struggled mightily against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, are a better team when they're able to play with a lead. They rely more on their running game -- which ranked sixth in the NFL during the regular season -- than the Colts, who had the league's worst rushing attack. However, the Colts defense, which is predicated on speed, is capable of keeping New Orleans' speedy backs in check and forcing the Saints to be one-dimensional. That would figure to open up as many opportunities to generate pressure, with or without injured defensive end Dwight Freeney. The difference is, Manning was sacked only 10 times during the regular season and is rarely touched in the pocket.
» It's extremely difficult to get stops against a Colts offense that does a superb job of controlling the clock with a precise passing game. Rookie Austin Collie has become an exceptional addition as a slot receiver.
» During his 12-year career, Manning has led the Colts on 43 fourth-quarter and overtime game-winning drives.
» Manning does his best work when it's needed most in a shootout: The fourth quarter. In 2009, he ranked first in the league in fourth-quarter efficiency with a 116.0 passer rating. Manning completed 79 of 109 passes (72.5 percent) for 939 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception.
"I think it's fun," Saturday said. "For us, there's nothing better than having the ball with a minute, 24 and down two points; I like two points better than five points, because I'd much rather kick a field goal. But that's what you play for. You play for the noise, you play for the excitement of being able to block up the best rushers they're going to bring you and watch Peyton do his thing with the receivers."
Besides Manning's remarkable talent, there are other reasons why he excels in the late stages of games. One is because first-year coach Jim Caldwell, who once was Indy's quarterbacks coach, constantly seeks to score late in the first half and at the end of games (provided, of course, that the situation doesn't call for killing the clock).
"Any time there's a chance that we're going to get in the two-minute situation, coach Caldwell is always thinking, 'How do I use my timeouts?' just to give us a little extra time to put Peyton and our offense in that situation, and it's been very effective," quarterbacks coach Frank Reich said. "That's one of the great things about Coach Caldwell having been the quarterbacks coach for so many years: He and Peyton have developed such a fine understanding."
Another reason for Manning's late-half and late-game success is that the Colts frequently work on those situations in practice.
"Every week, from the beginning of training camp throughout every season, every year, that's always a focus," Saturday said.
"We'll be right over (on the sideline) figuring out how to score another one because you know you're going to need to," Manning said. "Both teams have had similar type of games where either you come real hot and it's all quick and early, or you kind of struggle and all of a sudden, boom, it just explodes and it's three touchdowns before you know it.
"The fact that both teams have had similar types of offensive games is going to make the game interesting, I think."