No one can say the New Orleans Saints had an easy road to the championship. Just look at the quarterbacks they had to defeat along the way:
Kurt Warner, Hall-of-Famer. Brett Favre, Hall-of-Famer. Peyton Manning, Hall-of-Famer.
The Saints beat Warner and Favre by mercilessly pounding them, sending Warner into retirement and Favre into a bruise-covered limbo. Peyton Manning was spared the physical punishment, but by game’s end, had received a psychological beat-down perhaps even worse than that suffered by his predecessors.
As with Favre two weekends ago, the final blow to Manning’s psyche was delivered by Tracy Porter. With the Colts driving for what seemed like an inevitable tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, Porter read Manning, stepped in front of Reggie Wayne, caught the ball and raced downfield for a 74-yard touchdown, giving the Saints a 14-point lead.
The Colts got the ball back after that, but you could tell by Manning’s body language that he was already defeated.
That’s what the Saints do on defense. They give up yards, they give up points, but then they turn you over and score, either via return or their quick-strike offense. In football there is nothing so disheartening as coughing the ball up and watching helplessly as the other team converts the mistake into points.
The Vikings may have a more consistently stifling defense, at least when they’re on turf and can generate their pass rush, but one wishes they were a little more like the Saints in their ball-hawking ability. Grinding a team down is one thing, but what really breaks their back is the turnover.
Something Brett Favre and Peyton Manning know all-too-well.