In the wake of a stunning 31-17 loss to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, punctuated by an interception that was returned for a touchdown while Colts quarterback Peyton Manning drove the team for what would have been a game-tying score, plenty of people had fingers pointed in their direction regarding the outcome.
But not Peyton Manning.
Receiver Reggie Wayne was blamed for not “crossing the face” of Saints cornerback Tracy Porter, who squatted on the route before taking the ball untouched to the end zone, with coach Sean Payton perhaps being the only guy in serious pursuit.
More generally, the Indy offensive line was blamed by team president Bill Polian for being “outplayed by the Saints’ defensive line, I thought, pretty decisively.”
Receiver Hank Baskett has been blamed for not cradling a surprise onside kick that started the third quarter.
Now, there’s a new scapegoat.
Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star shoehorns into a profile of third-string running back Mike Hart reference to a “key sequence” at the end of the first half of the game, in which the Colts needed one yard on third down, Hart got the ball, and he failed to convert.
The Colts punted, the Saints converted the short field into a field goal, and then (under Wilson’s logic) they were sufficiently emboldened by the extra three points to try to fool the Colts only minutes after Roger Daltry had promised between flashes of Pete Townshend’s ghastly white underbelly that Daltry Won’t Get Fooled Again.
So, basically, if Hart would have gained that one yard, the Colts would have won the Super Bowl. Even though the Saints planned to spring a surprise onside kick at some point during the game.
Meanwhile, Manning gets little or no blame for throwing the ball that resulted in a seven-point deficit becoming an insurmountable 14-point hole. Immediately after the game, Porter attributed his effort to “great film study,” which means that Porter cracked Peyton’s code — and that Peyton didn’t realize the offense he engineers by flapping his arms like a pelican trying to get BP’s primary product off its wings had a fairly significant tell.
As Porter told Dan Patrick the morning after the game: “Once I saw [Austin] Collie motion in, I was like, ‘OK, here comes the stick
route,’ and once I saw [Reggie Wayne] try to wide the part, I just stepped inside
and when he went to make the break to come back in I was already in
front of him and I picked the ball off.”
But no one has pinned blame on Manning for the Colts’ failure to ensure that their offense wasn’t too predictable, possibly since such an explanation would come dangerously close to placing blame on the guy whose mere presence puts the Colts in position year in and year out to compete for championships.
Still, Peyton Manning bears a lot of the blame for the final outcome. Not Reggie Wayne. Not the offensive line. Not Hank Baskett. Not Mike Hart.
If the Colts are lucky, Manning will have figured that out without anyone pointing it out, and he will be even more committed to making amends for last year’s gaffe by taking the team back to the Super Bowl this year — and finishing the job.