DID FIELD-GOAL DECISIONS AND FIELD-GOAL KICKERS DECIDE THE SUPER BOWL?

                                                                                      Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Lost in the shuffle of the Tracy Porter interception return of a Peyton Manning pass late in the game to clinch the Super Bowl (31-17 New Orleans) was the role of the field goal kickers, who they are, how they were there and an ill-fated decision to kick one by Colts coach Jim Caldwell.

WHY MATT STOVER?

The Colts decided to go with Matt Stover over the greatest postseason field goal kicker ever, Adam Vinatieri. Arguably not a tough decision since Vinatieri had had knee surgery in October, unless you were thinking about Stover kicking a 51-yarder, outside his range. Leading up to the Super Bowl, Vinatieri was quoted as saying “I’m in the bullpen right now, getting healthier every day. I could probably go if needed.”

Obviously, Jim Caldwell felt he wasn’t needed.

Matt Stover made Caldwell look good, kicking a 38-yarder early in the game to put the Colts on the board. But, as luck (fate? destiny?) would have it, Caldwell had to make a decision in the fourth quarter – whether to let Stover kick a field goal that very few, other than Caldwell, thought he could make.

So Stover tried to kick a 51-yarder with 10:44 left in the game. With the Colts up 17-16 at the time, it would force the Saints to score a touchdown if the kick was good. Of course, the kick wasn’t good, and the rest is history.

The Saints got great field position at their own 41 and proceeded to go on a nine-play, 59-yard, win-the-Super-Bowl drive.

What would have happened if Adam Vinatieri had been active for the game? Well, of course, we’ll never know. But with two Super Bowl-winning kicks on his resume and with arguably the greatest clutch field goal kick in NFL history (in the snow against the Raiders in the 2002 playoffs), most would rather have had Adam Vinatieri in that spot.

MEET THE NEW ADAM VINATIERI – GARRETT HARTLEY

A little too early for that? Well, maybe, but you can’t be more clutch than Hartley was in the last two games for the Saints. Hartley hit it right down the middle against the Vikings in OT, a 40-yarder that put the Saints into the Super Bowl. He then went out and kicked a 46-yarder and a 44-yarder in the first half of the Super Bowl to keep the Saints close. He then kicked a 47-yarder to give the Saints life, becoming the first kicker in a Super Bowl to kick three field goals over 40 yards in one Super Bowl.

All the field goals, including the OT one against the Vikings, were no-doubt-abouters, straight down the middle and good when kicked. In a postseason where field goal kickers, as a group, were a total disaster, Garrett Hartley, 5-5, stood far above the rest.

Hartley had his own strange trip to Super Bowl hero. As a rookie kicker in 2008 out of Oklahoma, Hartley made an immediate impression, going 13-13 in field goals. But over the summer, he tested positive for a banned stimulant (he said that he took Adderall to stay awake on a long drive) and was suspended for the first four games of this season.

The Saints intelligently signed dependable John Carney, but Hartley regained his job in December and went 9-11 in field goals the rest of the regular season. They also brilliantly signed Carney as a kicking consultant (after releasing him) to specifically work with Hartley. Obviously it helped, as Hartley’s 5-5 in the playoffs now makes him 27-29 in his NFL career, a staggering 93.1% accuracy rate.

SO, TO RECAP

Most people at the time thought it was a mistake to let Matt Stover try to kick a 51-yarder in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Whether it was a mistake to not have Adam Vinatieri on the active roster is a question that can’t really be answered. But the combination of kicker selection and play selection (that is, to actually try that field goal) contributed mightily to the Colts’ defeat.

Conversely, to show great confidence in a promising, second-year kicker and to retain a great veteran as a teacher led to not only a game-winning kick to get the Saints to the Super Bowl, but also to three over-40 yard field goals in the Super Bowl. Brilliant decision-making all around by the New Orleans Saints.

OTHER SUPER BOWL THOUGHTS

  1. Give Dwight Freeney a lot of credit: Double-teamed the first quarter, the Saints must have thought they could single-team him in the second quarter. He got good pressure and then a big sack to stop a Saints drive in the second quarter. But he was ineffective in the second half (that long halftime must have hurt him) and, eventually, came out of the game for long stretches.
  2. Peyton Manning is taking a beating as his quest for immortality came up short. The problem for Manning is that he’s considered the greatest quarterback ever – in the regular season. With only one Super Bowl, he’s still an all-time great but his record in the playoffs is 9-9. He totally lost his focus at the end, foolishly calling a timeout and then trying (without success) to wave it off.
  3. Sean Payton has come a long way since inexplicably being relieved of his play-calling duties as offensive coordinator by none other than Jim Fassel (then of the Giants) in 2002. It’s a message for all young coaches at every level – if you are confident in yourself, stay the course. The people in charge are wrong more often than you think. Payton was saved by Bill Parcells in Dallas and, in 2006, New Orleans took a chance on him. The rest, as they say, is history.
  4. You would think that more defensive backs would jump routes like Tracy Porter did when there is an all-out blitz on. Porter took a bit of a gamble, but it’s hard to expect even the great Peyton Manning to throw a deep ball under that kind of pressure. Porter jumped the route – and clinched the Super Bowl at a time when virtually everybody thought there would be overtime.
  5. The first-half Super Bowl commercials were, as a group, very bad. It’s amazing that people get paid a gazillion dollars to think of these things and then corporations pay a gazillion dollars to put them on the air. The Leno-Oprah-Letterman spot was more weird than funny. Brett Favre thinking about retirement at 50 isn’t funny because Brett Favre thinking about retirement at 38, 39 and 40 isn’t funny. In fact, it’s boring. Any entity that paid a fortune to air a commercial in the second half should request a refund, because viewers like this writer and many others just blew off the commercials in the second half as you would during a regular season game.
  6. Jeremy Shockey, whatever you think of him, is an excellent football player who finally got his ring. So, too, Jonathan Vilma, a very talented guy who didn’t fit in with Eric Mangini and the Jets defense. Who’s laughing now?
  7. While the Saints wanted to be “aggressive,” they actually started the game very non-aggressive. Their first play from scrimmage was a handoff to the up back for two yards. Three and out. Conversely, Peyton Manning’s first play from scrimmage was a play-action pass to Dallas Clark for 18 yards. Indeed, the big fourth down “gamble” by the Saints late in the first half turned out to be an aggressive attempt with a passive run play. After failing going over the right side on third down, why not go play action pass down there rather then run right again? It all became irrelevant when Sean Payton called that onside kick for the ages to start the third quarter. Fortunately for him, the Saints recovered and that play changed the game.

FINALLY, DOES THE RUN SET UP THE PASS OR DOES THE PASS SET UP THE RUN?

Here’s the biggest change in the NFL in the last decade or so. Once upon a time, it was the gospel that a team had to “establish the run” to set up the pass. While that is still true sometimes today (see the Jets two playoff wins), there are also situations where the pass sets up the run. The Colts had some very good success running the ball after Peyton Manning had success throwing it early in the game. The Patriots sometimes try and establish the run, but they also (especially in 2007) often pass first and run later. The Chargers are another team that will pass at times and then kill you with the run.

The point is that it can work either way now and that really was untrue in the past and distant past in the NFL It is more a quarterbacks’ league now than ever before and, unless there are changes in the rules (which there won’t be) to help the defenses, the offensive passing numbers will continue to rise.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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