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Thomas' TD gives Saints lead in Super Bowl XLIV, affects Colts

If you told me before Sunday's Super Bowl XLIV that the New Orleans Saints' third-longest offensive play would be a 16-yard screen pass, I would have said they had no shot at beating the Indianapolis Colts.

New Orleans was the NFL's most explosive offensive team in 2009, leading the league in yards and points while ranking fourth with 72 plays of more than 20 yards.

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Without big plays on offense, how could the Saints possibly score enough points to beat Peyton Manning?

Simple. By playing Colts football. Chain-moving, catch-making, field goal-converting, turnover-free, penalty-free, keep-away football.

With every 7-yard completion, Drew Brees took a play away from Manning. With each contested catch, the Saints' receivers and running backs kept the ball out of the hands of Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Joseph Addai. With time whizzing by, New Orleans shortened the game and put the pressure on Indianapolis to deliver.

During the 2009 season, NFL teams averaged 11.6 offensive possessions per game. The Colts had just eight in the Super Bowl. Here were the results:

  1. 11 plays -- field goal
    1. 11 plays -- touchdown
    2. 3 plays -- punt (Garcon drop)
    3. 3 plays -- punt (conservative running plays)
    4. 10 plays -- touchdown
    5. 12 plays -- missed field-goal attempt
    6. 7 plays -- interception
    7. 9 plays -- downs

Manning and Co. had several long drives with unsuccessful conclusions, and because of the Saints' strategy, the Colts didn't have enough possessions to make up for the squandered opportunities.

The Saints' worst two possessions were their first two. After that, they finished three drives with field goals and two others with touchdowns. They turned the ball over on downs at the 1-yard line, which isn't terrible, considering they forced a three-and-out on the Colts' ensuing possession. New Orleans also gained a possession by recovering an onside kick.

Our Anatomy of a Play segment features Brees' 16-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas, giving the Saints their first lead of the game. It was one of many well-executed offensive plays that took their toll, blow after blow, on the Colts' psyche.

From the second quarter on, the Saints executed their game plan to perfection, earning the right to be called Super Bowl champions.

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