Bold moves pay off for Super Saints
It was fitting that such an entertaining NFL season should conclude with a thrilling Super Bowl. The spoils went to New Orleans, the team that adopted the more aggressive, care-free approach, against Indianapolis in Miami.
Super Bowl 44 showed that the NFL is not just about spectacular skill and ferocious hitting - the sport can also be about aggressive coaching and clever scheming.
New Orleans took some chances and while not all of their gambles paid off, the aggressive moves made by head coach Sean Payton did inspire his troops. Saints players knew their coach was going to give them every possible chance to win the biggest game of their lives.
Tracy Porter returns an interception from Colts quarterback Peyton Manning 74 yards to seal victory
Payton first rolled the dice as half-time approached, on fourth and goal from the Colts' one-yard line. It was certainly a bold move given that the Saints were only down 10-3 at the time.
The ensuing run failed but it was a case of no harm done as the defence held firm and New Orleans got the ball back with a few seconds remaining on the clock, moving into field goal range and getting the three they should have got the first time around.
While the Saints were taking chances, that Garrett Hartley field goal before the break came about because the Colts adopted such a conservative approach in the final minute of the first half.
Facing a third-and-one at their own 10-yard line, the Colts ignored the game's greatest quarterback in Peyton Manning - a man who excels at throwing on third down - and had him hand off to the unheralded Mike Hart, who ran for no gain behind what is generally considered an offensive line not built for power.
Now, I'm not suggesting that Manning should have forced a pass into double coverage so close to his own end zone, but surely the Colts had a play up their sleeves that could pick up a single yard through the air?
The gutsiest call of the night came at the start of the second half. But first, a little background. Super Bowl half-times stretch for around 30 minutes, instead of the usual 12 of the regular season. So when Payton approached Saints kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead and told him the second half would start with an onside kick, you could forgive the rookie for getting a bit nervous.
While The Who went through their set out on the field, Morstead sweated through the ensuing 25 minutes. He had never attempted an onside kick in his life and was now going to do it for the first time in front of the 153 million television viewers in the US, who made this Super Bowl the most-watched programme of all-time.
Morstead, who is prone to an attack of nerves at the best of times, played the kick in his head time and again, admitting: "I wasn't worried. I was terrified. He dropped it on me near the start of half-time, not near the end, and it's such a long half-time."
Payton was not about to be put off by the fact his young kicker - who had not even attempted an onside kick in practice until 12 days before the game - was feeling a bit jittery. And he certainly wasn't worried that his team only trailed 10-6 and - if his bold move backfired - he could have handed the ball to Manning on the Saints' 40-yard line.
But the best kind of onside kick is an unexpected onside kick. And there is no way the Colts could have expected Morstead to send the ball squibbing towards the sidelines. Hank Baskett was certainly not prepared and the pigskin bounced straight off his chest.
Despite the desperate screams of "blue ball" Chris Reis recovered for the Saints at the conclusion of a 90-second scrum that probably involved a great deal of twisting and pulling of body parts.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was named as the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player
Brees took full advantage as he put the Saints in front for the first time on the night by firing a 16-yard touchdown strike to Pierre Thomas. It was an impressive comeback. The Saints found themselves 10-0 down and reeling by the end of the first period but they never blinked. They had total faith in their ability to come back and Payton helped them with his bold approach.
Like the rest of his team, Brees made a slow start to the Super Bowl, hitting on just three of his first seven passes for 27 yards. But he showed once again that he is a great rhythm quarterback who boasts first-class accuracy. He may not have the strongest arm in the NFL, but he certainly knows how to put the ball on the money.
In the final 45 minutes, Brees completed 29 of 32 passes. And I should point out that one of his incompletions was a spike to stop the clock near the end of the first half and another was a perfectly-placed pass into the hands of Reggie Bush that ended up on the ground.
In a game where we knew quarterbacks would have a huge role to play, Brees grabbed the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player prize by completing 32 of 39 throws for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
Manning was good - and occasionally brilliant - for much of the night but was undone when driving for a game-tying touchdown. His third-down pass intended for Reggie Wayne was intercepted by Tracy Porter and taken 74 yards to the end zone for the game-deciding score.
It was another example of aggressive play-calling by the Saints. They had spent much of the evening playing rather cautiously on defence, but with the Colts threatening to tie it up, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams rolled the dice and sent several extra defenders after Manning on that third down play.
With additional pressure coming from all angles, Manning did not get the ball out to Wayne (who also did not run a very good pattern) and Porter read the play perfectly, using his brain to get into a good position before taking advantage of his outstanding athletic skills to race the length of the field.
Cue the wild celebrations in New Orleans and I don't think anyone can begrudge the Saints fans of their moment in the sun. It was a thrilling end to a magnificent season.
On a personal level, it has been a real thrill to be involved in the BBC radio and online coverage this season. And I would like to thank everyone for taking the time to read - and respond regularly to - this blog. Your feedback is always greatly appreciated and here's hoping we can do it all again in 2010.
And now the long off-season begins...I'm depressed already!