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Super Bowl XLIV rematch: How the Saints took away Indy's ring

To celebrate Super Bowl 50, NFL Media's Elliot Harrison is looking back at each of the 19 Super Bowl rematches on the regular-season schedule in 2015, revisiting the clashes of the past as former Super Sunday opponents square off once again.

Reunites the combatants from: Super Bowl XLIV (Saints 31, Colts 17).

Turnovers. They still rule the day, friends.

Research tells us that the team that wins the turnover battle in pro football prevails approximately 70 percent of the time, according to Stats LLC. That's right. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, even a plus-one turnover differential has resulted in the opportune team routinely beating the inopportune team, no matter the strength of rosters, location of game or amount of air in the footballs. So, what's the win percentage of teams that enjoy a plus-two turnover differential? Over 80.

Point is, making fewer mistakes -- and not tilting the field in your opponent's favor -- is as integral to success in the NFL as it gets. It can even earn you a Lombardi Trophy, with Super Bowl XLIV between the Colts and Saints serving as a sublime example.

Bill Parcells was one of the first coaches to really stress winning the turnover battle. That's why his championship teams in New York were so careful with the football -- and why it's no surprise that Sean Payton, a Parcells disciple, similarly emphasized this point when he took over the reins in New Orleans. Were Parcells and Payton the only two coaches paying attention to what we now consider the obvious? Of course not. But their accomplishments speak to the larger importance of this aspect of the game. Parcells got his rings, and in 2009, Payton nabbed one of his own -- thanks, in no small part, to the Saints' 39 takeaways and plus-11 turnover differential. Oh, and a couple big plays in the big game.

Sure, Sean Payton is a fantastic play caller, mixing and matching his pieces enough to succeed more than the savviest Stratego player you've ever come across. Essentially, Payton is the NFL version of the Dungeon Master in D&D, knowing where everyone is on the map and using that knowledge to shape his play design. Having Drew Brees run point is a bonus of Hall of Fame proportions. In fact, the Saints quarterback set a completion-percentage record in 2009 (70.6, which Brees then surpassed in 2011 by posting a 71.2). And when he wasn't hitting Marques Colston in the end zone, New Orleans' sixth-ranked ground assault was doing its part.

Yet, the early goings of Super Bowl XLIV featured none of that, instead largely presenting sluggish offense in the game's first 30 minutes. Indy led 10-6 at halftime, primarily on the strength of an impressive 96-yard, first-quarter drive courtesy of Peyton Manning. For much of the opening half, New Orleans couldn't get out of its own way: dropping balls, losing footing and ultimately settling for two Garrett Hartley field goals.

The second half is when it got real. (Yes, I wanted to use another word there. No, my editor wouldn't let me.)

Payton, knowing his club needed a spark, went into his bag of tricks. As you can see in this NFL Films video, the Saints coach had explained a potential onside kick to the game officials in the pregame, so they knew what to look for if New Orleans decided to bust it out. At the beginning of the third quarter, Payton decided to do exactly that, dialing up the play called "Ambush."

Rookie punter Thomas Morstead, who also handled kickoffs for the Saints in 2009, would be called on to do the job.

"I'd never kicked off before this year and so I'd never had an onside kick," Morstead told NFL Films. "But they wanted it to be a surprise, so we just started working on it. I saw one from game film that Olindo Mare had done a couple years ago. And I did it perfectly the first time we ran it in practice, and coach just called it 'Ambush' right then. It stuck."

So, at the outset of the second half, Morstead hit a wobbler about 10 yards to his left. Colts WR Hank Baskett -- yes, in his pre-reality star days -- made a diving attempt for the football, with the pigskin bouncing off his face mask and into the hip of New Orleans special teamer Chris Reis.

"Really, I wasn't supposed to recover the ball," Reis told NFL Films. "All week, it had been Roman Harper that would recover the ball, and I kind of looped behind, just in case it popped out or something like that."

Brees recalled the ensuing madness to NFL Films: "I've never seen a pile-up like that; I've never seen it take that long to pull everybody off the pile. But the fact that it was taking place on our sideline? That was big. So many guys (were saying) 'Saints ball! Saints ball!' "

Saints ball indeed. Game on, Peyton.

With the fantastic field position, Brees began driving the offense and the nation began to believe that an upset could be brewing. Pierre Thomas' beautiful catch, run and dive into the end zone put America's team (for a day, anyway) up 13-10.

OK, wait a second. Does a successful onside-kick recovery officially count in the stat sheet as a turnover? No, not according to NFL rules. But, while this play wasn't recorded as a takeaway, the Saints did take away a possession from Manning, who had just claimed his NFL-record fourth MVP award one month prior. Keeping it out of that guy's hands? Yeah, kind of beneficial. Not to mention, getting the ball at midfield carried the same field-swapping effect as corralling a pick or recovering a fumble. So, whether you consider this a turnover or a dash of special teams genius, it really was a takeaway -- a takeaway that directly impacted the outcome of the Super Bowl.

Anyhow, New Orleans suddenly led the mighty Colts! Fun ... engrossing to millions ... and shooooort-lived.

Manning immediately responded with a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive, coolly completing five of his six passes for 52 yards. Meanwhile, Colts tight end Dallas Clark continued to wage war on the men in black, white and old gold. The Saints were the sentimental choice to win it all. Manning and Clark weren't feeling sentimental at that point.

But the Colts weren't the only team with a dynamic signal caller, that's for sure. Brees, who supplanted Peyton's dad as the most beloved QB in franchise history, marched the Saints on drives of 37 and 59 yards, leading to another Hartley field goal and a Jeremy Shockey touchdown -- yes, that Jeremy Shockey -- to go up 24-17. The latter drive included an as-close-as-it gets, successful two-point-conversation snag-and-roll by Lance Moore.

All of this set the table for an epic moment that undoubtedly brought a smile to Parcells' face. Payton's ex-boss, and all those Saints fans back in Louisiana that knew the value of a good turnover, witnessed the most relevant Super Bowl interception this side of Malcolm Butler.

Trailing by seven with less than six minutes remaining -- and 70 yards to paydirt -- Manning got possession and proceeded to calmly hit Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne twice apiece, before putting another ball right on Austin Collie to saddle the Colts up at the New Orleans 31 for a third-and-5. Having seen several slants throughout the game, linebacker and defensive leader Scott Fujita, who was mic'd up for NFL Films, warned Tracy Porter to look for quick, in-breaking routes.

Warning heeded. On the game's definitive play, Porter pulled a Butler -- five years in advance -- jumping the route and bringing a recently Hurricane-ravaged city sheer joy, yard by yard, 74 of them to the house.


And yet another matchup decided by the simplest formula in the sport: More takeaways than giveaways = taking home the spoils.

Did you know?

The Saints (13-3) and Colts (14-2) combined for 27 wins during the 2009 regular season, tied for the third-highest total among Super Bowl combatants. The other two Super Bowls featuring teams with 27 combined regular-season wins: XXXIX between the 2004 Eagles (13-3) and Patriots (14-2); XXVI between the 1991 Redskins (14-2) and Bills (13-3).

So, which Super Bowl Sundays featured even more regular-season domination?

Second place goes to XXXIII, a matchup between the 1998 Broncos (14-2) and Falcons (14-2).

And the premier Super Bowl matchup of all time -- at least in terms of regular-season behemoths -- remains XIX, which pitted the 1984 49ers (15-1) against the Dolphins (14-2). That's a staggering 29 regular-season wins (math!) between them. San Francisco bested Miami in that matchup, 38-16, at Stanford Stadium.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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