Sean Payton Gambles, and It Pays Off Handsomely

Sean PaytonMIAMI -- When a coach has the offensive weapons that Sean Payton has at his disposal, he has the luxury to be bold. Many coaches, in similar situations with comparable talent, seldom exercise that luxury. And even when they do, it is done sparingly. ↵

↵It was Payton's boldness that, halfway through Super Bowl 44, was impugned following a failed attempt on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter. Many agreed with his decision to go for the touchdown, but just as many questioned his play selection: A slow-developing run to the right side, which was promptly snuffed out by the Colts. When a cautious response by the Colts allowed the Saints a field goal to close within four points at the half, Payton could have been chastened by fate and settled on a more conservative approach in the second half. ↵

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↵Blind circumstance governs whether boldness is perceived as inspired or reckless. ↵

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↵And Payton prevailed in this game because he wasn't afraid to be wrong. His was aggression tempered with patience. And preparation. ↵

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↵"We were able to come back against the field goal before the half; in fact, the last play of the half," the Saints coach said in postgame comments. "All week we had practiced that onside kick, and at halftime, I just told those guys we have to make our look right here." ↵

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↵Let's not overlook the field goal attempts, either. Garrett Hartley could have been in line for the first ever Super Bowl MVP award for a kicker had he been called on to make a game-winning attempt in the final quarter. This because Payton had enough faith in his 23-year-old kicker, who had only 24 career field goal attempts coming into the postseason, to try three kicks of longer than 40 yards. He connected on all three, establishing a new Super Bowl record. ↵

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↵The defense's approach deserves similar commendations for combining the daring with the disciplined. Whereas all week analysts spoke about the abandon with which the Saints' defense would try to bombard Peyton Manning, the team was committed foursquare to that strategy, even as it appeared shaky in the early going.
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↵One evident downside from focusing on the passing game was that it allowed Joseph Addai to have perhaps his best performance of the year. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said he told his players all week not to panic if they gave up more than 100 yards rushing. In fact, they should prepare for it.
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↵Manning was not hit many times by the Saints rushers. There were instances when it seemed he could have run out of clock on dropbacks. But New Orleans would throw in the occasional coverage wrinkle to try to toy with him. It didn't work often, but it did result in the clinching score. ↵

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↵These gambles could have backfired on Payton and Williams. Several times in their careers, similar decisions have bit them. That's the nature of the game. But because they weren't cowed by initial hardship, the two have been rewarded with their sport's biggest prize. And a ton of vindication. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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