By Jim Mashek/The Sun Herald (MCT)
NOTE: Super Bowl XLIV starts at 5 p.m. on CBS, WCBI locally.
MIAMI — The New Orleans Saints like to sling the ball around the field and force their opponent to play catch-up, at which point the Saints’ defense can take some chances to produce a crucial sack or interception.
Football always has been a game of momentum, and the Saints like to seize it. Any way they can. Oftentimes, it’s with Drew Brees pulling the trigger and firing the ball to receivers Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson. If Jeremy Shockey is healthy enough, and he’s playing with an injured knee, he gives the Saints a big target in the middle of the field as a 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end.
That’s what the NFL is these days.
You’re not going to win if you can’t throw the ball.
And few quarterbacks in NFL history throw the ball better than the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning, who will share the spotlight with Brees on Sunday night in Super Bowl XLIV at Sun Life Stadium.
They’ll devote much of the pregame show to those two guys, and deservedly so, but I think the Saints are going to go old school to win an NFL championship.
Sure, Brees is going to get his chance to shine, and he has time and again during the Saints’ amazing, unprecedented 15-3 season. We’ve seen the incredible comebacks at Miami and Washington. We’ve seen the precise passing performances in the drubbings of the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, two playoff teams.
That’s all well and good, of course, and the Saints are playing well, and they’re really good. So, too, of course, are the Colts. The NFL couldn’t ask for a better matchup, for its American television audience, for its Canadian television audience. Mexico. Guam, The Netherlands, you name it …
That’s why the Saints are going to go retro Sunday night.
No, no, I’m not talking about Bobby Hebert or Archie Manning, and I’m certainly not talking about the ’60s version of The Three Stooges — Billy Kilmer, Karl Sweetan and Edd Hargett.
I’m talking about running the football.
I’m talking about giving the ball to Pierre Thomas up the gut. And Mike Bell finding the hole on an off-tackle play. I’m talking about the Saints’ Sean Payton, an innovative coach if there ever was one, getting Reggie Bush back in the flow, which he certainly was in the Saints’ 45-14 beatdown of the Arizona Cardinals.
Carl Nicks, the Saints’ second-year guard, he knows what I’m sayin’.
“You have to establish the run against any team you play,” Nicks said. “But especially against a team with a Peyton Manning. The less time he’s on the field. If we establish the run, we’ll do pretty well.”
I’m not sure if the Israeli army had a similar strategy before the Six-Day War, but they might as well have. Gregg Williams’ defense is going to go after Peyton Manning. He served notice on that front when January was coming to a close. But the Saints are going to have to score some points.
The Saints are going to have to run the football.
They’ve been a relaxed team this week, dealing with the media crush and providing some colorful quotes here and there. (Mr. Jeremy Shockey, the Fourth Estate extends our warmest thanks.) But they’ll admit, yeah, they’re going to be a little nervous.
Some of them might have even struggled with sleep on Saturday night. Hey, it’s human nature.
“I won’t say I haven’t had any issues, sleeping,” Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said on Thursday morning. “I haven’t slept good all week. It goes with the territory. You do what you can. Make sure you at least get your rest. Once the ball kicks off, it’s just football.”
Nicks, Jermon Bushrod, Jonathan Goodwin, Jahri Evans and Jon Stinchcomb are going to give the Saints the edge they need. They’ll control the ball. They’ll win the game.
Saints 37, Colts 26.
And what a party in the French Quarter, and across the Gulf South, it will be.