New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton breaks down the third quarter of the Super Bowl
The most famous onside kick in NFL history was supposed to be a fake punt.
In the weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLIV, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was searching for a way to "steal" a possession from the Indianapolis Colts. And he got the idea for a fake punt stuck in his head after scheming with his mentor, Bill Parcells, who ran a fake punt to help win an NFC championship game nearly 20 years earlier.
"Two weeks prior, we started with the idea that we wanted to steal a possession, we want to gain a possession and take one away from them. It's just like a turnover," Payton said as he sat down recently with The Times-Picayune to offer a play-by-play recap of the Saints' Super Bowl victory, a sort of "director's commentary" of his team's performance.
"And we explored the idea that we were going to try a fake punt, " Payton continued. "But really there were just too many looks defensively and too many variables."
In his soon-to-be-released book, "Home Team," Payton admitted that he seemed to be the only one excited about the fake punt, and coaches and even some players had to talk him out of it.
"They didn't tell me what I wanted to hear. They told me what I needed to hear," Payton wrote.
But special teams coaches Greg McMahon and Mike Mallory offered another suggestion: Why not try a surprise onside kick, just like they successfully tried in a 2007 regular-season game against Jacksonville in the Superdome?
And thus, "ambush" was born.
This time, players and coaches alike were fired up about the idea as it worked successfully time and again in practice, to the point where they were almost daring Payton to call it in the game.
"So that was the plan," Payton said. "And the night before the game, we had talked about it and we had told our special teams, 'Hey, we're going to do this.' We don't know where in the game, but it's going to come up.' And so it comes up at halftime."
The Saints were trailing 10-6 at the half, but they had begun to shift the momentum their way in the second quarter, putting together three nice drives to chip away at the Colts' 10-0 lead.
And Payton, of course, wanted to keep that momentum going.
He didn't decide on the onside kick immediately, he said. But the idea sprang up during the extra-long Super Bowl halftime, which is about 30 minutes instead of the usual 15.
Because the Saints had extra time, they decided to map out the first eight plays they wanted to run during the second half - the same kind of script that they always write before the start of the game.
And as they began working on that script, Payton decided he wanted to start running those plays immediately. He didn't want to kick off to the Colts.
"I decided, hey, we're going to start the second half with this onside kick, so I told our guys, 'Let's be ready for the ball to be on the left hash just past midfield,'" Payton said. "Now, just as you say that, you also walk down to the defense and say, 'Be ready for a short field in case we don't recover.'"
Payton liked his odds though. In fact, he had specifically figured them at 68 percent, based on researching the success rate of surprise onside kicks in past NFL games.
He almost screwed up one important variable though, he said, until he realized at the last minute that the Saints were about to kick in the wrong direction.
Before halftime, Payton had let the officials know that he wanted to keep going left to right, the same way the Saints had been going during the second quarter -- an admittedly superstitious way to keep that momentum in their favor.
But it dawned on him as he walked out onto the field that the onside kick would wind up traveling directly toward the Colts' sideline. And he wanted the "home-sideline" advantage in case a scrum developed.
"Oh, clearly that can make a difference, " Payton explained. "You want it to happen on your side, if you can control it."
And sure enough, the kick bounced off Indianapolis receiver Hank Baskett, then into the arms and through the legs of Saints safety Chris Reis, setting up a mad scramble for the ball. Eventually, with an assist from linebacker Jonathan Casillas, Reis wound up with the ball. But for those frantic 90 seconds or so, Payton and the rest of the Saints' coaches were right on top of the officials screaming, "We got it!"
Although Payton had prepared for that scrum, he admitted that if he really expected it to be that close, he never would have called the onside kick.
"You're hoping for a cleaner recovery, " Payton said. "But Indianapolis played it well. That wasn't the 68-32 percentages. That was more 50-50 at that point."
Once the dust settled, the Saints' offense took the field in the exact area Payton had promised: the left hashmark on their 42-yard line.
There was just one snafu left for the Saints to overcome before they started into that second-half script. Inconceivably, the Saints' printer wasn't working, so they couldn't print the play sheet they had drawn up.
Payton, not surprisingly, didn't take the news well.
"I think I said something like, 'How the (expletive) does the printer not work in the Super Bowl?" Payton said, now laughing about the incident.
The coaches conferred over their headsets, though, and listed the eight plays from memory. Then the Saints' offense started rattling them off on the field.
A 12-yard check-down pass from Drew Brees to Pierre Thomas; a great 9-yard throw by Brees and catch by receiver Devery Henderson in a tight window; another 5-yard completion to Henderson; a 9-yard strike to receiver Marques Colston on a play-action pass; a 7-yard run up the middle by Thomas; then a perfectly executed screen pass to Thomas that turned into a 16-yard touchdown.
As Payton reviewed the film, he pointed out the terrific downfield blocks by center Jonathan Goodwin, guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks and Henderson, among others -- and the complete whiff on an attempted block by fullback Kyle Eckel.
Payton, who wore a microphone throughout the game for NFL Films, raised his arms on the sideline after the play, then brought one down in a swinging fist pump as he yelled, "Bang!" -- his most emphatic display of emotion in the game so far.
The only thing that went off script? The Saints needed only six plays to score instead of eight. And they now led 13-10.
"It was a lot better than our openers to start the game, " Payton said.
Trying to corral Clark
The Colts didn't tuck their tails between their legs. They marched right back down the field for a 10-play touchdown drive, with quarterback Peyton Manning hitting star tight end Dallas Clark three times for a combined 45 yards along the way to regain a 17-13 lead.
Payton was disgusted on the sideline, where he repeatedly yelled to coaches and players, "Let's not let their best player beat us! ... Let's stop Clark! ... Make one of these other slappies beat us!"
At the time, Payton kept complaining that Clark already had 149 yards in the game -- one time amending it to 147 yards -- though in truth, Clark only had five catches for 70 yards to that point and finished the game with seven catches for 86 yards.
Eventually, linebackers coach Joe Vitt called him on his fuzzy math, and Payton confessed last week that he was "overreacting."
"I was exaggerating a little bit there, " Payton said. "We did have a good plan for Clark. (Defensive end) Will Smith was rerouting him, (linebacker Scott) Shanle was picking him up in coverage. And honestly we had great coverage on him with a couple of his catches. But you just want to make sure."
The Saints' offense responded with an eight-play field goal drive to shrink Indy's lead to 17-16. Payton said he called another "shot play" to get deep down the field early in the drive, but the Colts covered it well. Indy's defense also held tight on third-and-7, forcing Brees to settle for a 4-yard pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey.
That meant the Saints had to settle for a 47-yard field-goal attempt by Garrett Hartley, and once again he delivered.
Manning and the Colts took over possession with time winding down in the third quarter, converting a first down and starting to march.
The third quarter was the most dramatic yet, with the onside kick, two touchdown drives and a field goal, but nothing was even close to being decided.
As they headed into the final period, it appeared that both teams had momentum, if such a thing is possible. But it made sense, considering these were the NFL's top two teams all season.
"(Momentum) is not overrated. It's not at all. But right now, the momentum is shifting back and forth, " Payton said, "which means you've got two good teams playing."
Re: New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton breaks down the third quarter of the Super Bowl
Gld they went with the onside instead of fake punt.
Hindsight now, but, hey, NOSaints won.so.
Re: New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton breaks down the third quarter of the Super Bowl
Great read! I'm really looking forward to Sean's book.
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