Here are some key stats from ESPN:
|3rd Down Efficiency||3 for 9||6 for 13|
|4th Down Efficiency||0 for 1||1 for 2|
The Colts had more yards, ran the ball better, and converted on 3rd down. Knowing nothing else about the game, I'd think the Colts had won. I'm not saying the Saints were entirely lucky (just somewhat). I'm pointing out that they won with a little help from better field position and a rope-a-dope big play.
1. Special teams and field position. According to Football Outsiders, there was nothing exceptional about the Saints on special teams this season. In fact they were pretty bad: ranked No. 28th overall. But just as field position helped them beat the Vikings, their special teams made a difference in this game. The onside kick to start the 2nd half was a stupid idea, but it worked so Sean Peyton will get a ton of credit for placing a winning bet. It's good to see it gives another boost to the unlikely NFL career of former Badger LB Jonathan Casillas. It also got them great field position. So did the missed 4th quarter FG, though that had nothing to do with a good play on the Saints part (sometimes it's better to be lucky). After the onside kick and the missed FG, the Saints took possession at their 42 and 41 yard lines, and used the short field to score two TDs. The Saints needed a short field too. They came away with zero points on their longest drive of the game (71 yards) when they got stopped on 4th down at the Colts' 1 yard line. Meanwhile the Colts' best starting field position of the game was their own 30 yard line.
2. Tracy Porter and the Pick Six INT. Just a brilliant article written by Doug Farrar over at Shutdown Corner detailing how the Saints had been getting killed playing in a wide 3 man front with little help from the blitz. But CB Tracy Porter had watched a lot of film and knew what the Colts were trying to do on 3rd and short with their receivers stacked. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams admitted they were trying to set up a situation where QB Peyton Manning would throw that pass out of that formation. The whole exchange reminded me of the rope-a-dope where Ali took a beating from Foreman to set him up later. (By the way, When We Were Kings is a brilliant documentary about that famous fight). The Saints gave the Colts a lot of ground while they waited for Manning to throw the one pass they were looking for.
There were a lot of great players in this game. The Colts would have stood no chance if Manning hadn't been brilliant on his other 44 pass attempts. The Saints would have stood no chance if QB Drew Brees hadn't had another brilliant game completing over 80% of his passes with 2 TDs and zero turnovers. But those two prize fighters were trading punches, making what I expected to be an evenly matched game exactly that. But it was the Saints got a big play from a barely known cornerback and it was the Saints that got somewhat lucky on a couple special teams plays. Those were the differences in the game.