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Key Moments of Super Bowl XLIV

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It has been a few days since the New Orleans Saints became Super Bowl Champions. The confetti has come down. Drew Brees and Mickey Mouse have paraded through Disney World together. And the eyes of all NFL fans turn grudgingly yet optimistically to the NFL Draft in early April.

Before doing that, it’s worth taking one last look at the biggest moment in this past season’s Super Bowl. Any game can be defined by one play where the entire momentum and tone of the game shifts in favor of one side. It can be anything from a deflection off a defender’s fingertips, to the aftermath of a bone-rattling hit, or even the effect of a drive-killing penalty.

In this Super Bowl, there was undoubtedly one play when the game shifted. Where what had felt like an inevitable and eventual victory for the Colts suddenly became a match controlled by New Orleans. Where even the casual football fan sat up in their seat and said “Well wait a sec… the Saints are actually going to win this game.”

Terry Porter’s interception for a touchdown was undoubtedly the biggest play of the game. On top of producing the games only turnover, as well as leading to its eventual final score, Porter’s pick-6 off of Peyton Manning unquestionably sealed the deal for the Saints, virtually guaranteeing them of victory.

But while Porter’s interception and subsequent touchdown was indisputably the most memorable play of the game, it didn’t represent the actual shift.

There was also the goal line stand by the Colts defense at the end of the first half. The change of possession initially meant the Saints got zero points out of their trip to the red-zone and had squandered a golden opportunity to tie the game before halftime.

This moment became irrelevant shortly afterward, however, as the Colts inability to sustain a final drive or to burn out the clock allowed the Saints to close out the half with a field goal anyway.

The moment also became irrelevant when the Colts, well…. lost.

And of course, there was the on-side kick, arguably one of the gutsiest gambles ever taken in Super Bowl history. The risk came with a big reward, as New Orleans scored a touchdown six plays later to give the Saints their first lead of the game.

This momentum didn’t last either, however, as Peyton Manning and the Colts would hold the ball for nearly six minutes on their next possession and answer with a touchdown, giving Indianapolis a 17-13 lead.

The shift actually occurred with just over 10 minutes left to play in regulation. The Colts, holding on to a one-point lead and attempting to put a game they had controlled throughout away, were forced into a 4th-and-11 just 33 yards away from the end-zone

Rather than punt and force the Saints to have to drive the length of the field, Colts rookie head coach Jim Caldwell decided to put his team’s fortunes on the foot of 41-year old kicker Matt Stover. While indisputably one of the league’s most consistent kickers with the Baltimore Ravens at the turn of the millennium, Stover was setting a record this past Sunday as the oldest player ever to play in a Super Bowl. This distinction makes any decision to put the game in his hands (or foot) highly questionable.

Yet there he was, oldest player in Super Bowl history, booting a difficult 51-yard field goal a few feet wide left. The result of the play was a short field for the Saints, no change in lead for the Colts, and a hideous scowl from Peyton Manning.

This was the point in the game where New Orleans took over. Brees led the Saints on a nine-play, 59-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey. It gave New Orleans a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, and the Colts would never score again.

It was the first time in the game that the Saints had scored and the Colts had been unable to answer.

It is shocking that this decision by Caldwell hasn’t been more scrutinized. The Colts were still ahead, but only by a single point. A field goal by New Orleans would have given them the lead back. Knowing that Stover hadn’t attempted a kick over 50 yards the entire season, Caldwell should have been wary at the possibility of giving Brees and his offense a short field.

It could be argued that it wouldn’t have mattered; regardless of whether they had to go 59 yards or 99 yards, no team in the NFL had proven able to consistently stop the Saints offense all year.

But by going for the field goal, and a four-point lead, Caldwell was showing his belief that his D could keep New Orleans out of the end zone.

They couldn’t.

Had Stover nailed the kick, the subsequent kickoff would have most likely given the Saints much worse field position.

But he didn’t.

Had Caldwell elected to punt, the Saints would have had a much longer field, giving the Colts defense more opportunities and leeway to make a stop.

But he didn’t.

Caldwell elected to send the oldest player on his roster, the oldest player in Super Bowl history, and a kicker not deemed worthy of a roster spot on the franchise he had called home for 17 years, out for an extraordinarily long field goal attempt that didn’t even make sense in the first place.

And that is the moment in which the Indianapolis Colts lost.

Any football match can be decided by a single moment. Sometimes it’s a dropped pass. Other times it’s a big hit. In this case, it was a rookie head coach’s unjustified faith in his veteran kicker to make a field goal they shouldn’t even have attempted.

The on-side kick was huge. And the interception was incredible. Years from now, when NFL analysts and historians look back at Super Bowl XLIV, these are the plays they’ll remember.

But it was the missed field goal that changed the game. And it was the missed field goal that made the difference.

Eric Marmon wrote this for SportEvents.com, which helps real NFL fans find NFL game tickets and tickets to the Super Bowl.

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