Super Bowl XLI Breakdown

Five Quick Hits

* I'm writing this Monday night, and it's been almost impossible to find television coverage of the game. Memo to ESPN: the Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event in North America. It was yesterday. Perhaps you should cover it.

* There was plenty of coverage about the commercials, but no one said much about my favorites. I'm not a big fan of the Coca-Cola corporation, but I thought their ad people did a nice job on the spots that aired during the Super Bowl.

* Prince put on a pretty good show at half-time.

* The Super Bowl XLI officiating crew did a mostly good job.

* Some minor complaints aside, I thought Jim Nantz was terrific on the Super Bowl play-by-play.

***

Super Bowl XLI will be remembered less for individual plays than for the Indianapolis victory that gave both Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning their first Super Bowl rings. This wasn't a particularly well-played Super Bowl, and in the second half, it wasn't a particularly close game. What made it significant were the ramifications for both Manning and Dungy. The former has been the game's best quarterback this decade, but was viewed in many quarters as a choker, or at least as a guy who couldn't win the big one. Now he has a ring and a Super Bowl MVP award.

Dungy was also tagged as a choker. He turned the Buccaneers around after two decades of mediocrity, but never got them to the Super Bowl. When he left, the Bucs finally won it all. Then Dungy's Colts couldn't beat the Patriots. Last season, they started 13-0 and lost their first playoff game. Now, though, both Dungy and Manning are over .500 in the postseason, and Dungy has become the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl.

Pre-Game

I want to focus on the Super Bowl itself, but I have to call out one of the coldest things I have ever seen from a pre-game show. Dan Marino was sitting between Bill Cowher, on his right, and Shannon Sharpe, on his left, when Sharpe said of winning the Super Bowl, "You don't have to hang on, play one more year, because this game validates you, this is why you play the game. All those gaudy numbers, they don't mean anything unless you hoist the trophy." CBS cameras caught Marino, who has the gaudiest passing numbers in NFL history, but never hoisted the trophy, biting his lip and staring into his coffee cup.

Cowher immediately followed up: "There's no doubt about that, Shannon. It's a defining moment for a lot of players' careers, and it's what they'll be looked upon." Guys, Marino's sitting right next to you. Have a heart.

Why the Colts Won

Indianapolis played a very patient game on offense. Chicago made clear, early on, that its plan was to prevent the Colts from winning with deep passes. With the exception of the blown coverage that led to Reggie Wayne's touchdown catch, the Bears were effective in limiting play-making opportunities for Manning and his wide receivers. The Colts adjusted by throwing short passes and by running the ball. Chicago never had an answer for the dump-off pass to Joseph Addai, and in the second half, Indy's running backs gained yards at will.

Defensively, Indianapolis just didn't let the Bears pick up first downs. Chicago's offense didn't have a drive longer than four plays until near the end of the third quarter. The Bears' offense only crossed midfield twice all game: in the first quarter, on Thomas Jones' 52-yard run, and on the last drive of the game, after Indianapolis voluntarily turned the ball over on downs rather than run up the score. The Colts were ballhawks, too, flying to the ball whenever Rex Grossman floated a pass or fumbled a snap. The Indianapolis defense finished with four turnovers, and that's a pretty reliable recipe for winning games.

Why the Bears Lost

Simply, the Bears lost because they were totally outclassed. The Colts were a much better team, and probably should have won by more than they did. Chicago had the advantage on special teams, defense looked about equal on Sunday, and on offense — do the Bears even have one of those? — there was no contest. The AFC is a lot better than the NFC, and the Patriots, Chargers, or Ravens would have beaten Chicago, too. This Super Bowl was almost anticlimactic after the dramatic AFC Championship Game between the Colts and Patriots.

Chicago's defensive performance had to be one of the biggest disappointments we've seen this postseason. The Bears got three turnovers, but only one sack and only two three-and-outs. They allowed over 400 yards of offense, including nearly 200 on the ground, and gave up a first down on nearly half of the Colts' third downs. Manning never looked uncomfortable, except at the very beginning of the game, but that might have been adjustment to the weather, or just nerves. The Bears generated very little pressure and never adjusted to prevent the Colts from moving the chains and controlling the clock.

On offense, Jones had a pretty good game, and the offensive line did a nice job of protecting Grossman. But the Bears didn't commit to the run, handing off only 17 times. This was a close game throughout, and Indianapolis didn't lead by more than a touchdown until several minutes into the fourth quarter, so it wasn't as though the Bears needed to throw. That's bad game-planning, or at least bad play-calling.

Chicago also never seemed to adjust to the loss of Cedric Benson. The Colts lost their starting right tackle and their top cornerback to first-half injuries. Charlie Johnson did a great job filling in on the line, and Kelvin Hayden scored the game-clinching touchdown on his first NFL interception. The Bears responded to Benson's injury by having Grossman throw more, rather than by giving the ball to Jones or to Adrian Peterson.

Of course, the Bears also lost because Grossman was in no way up to the task of quarterbacking a Super Bowl team. Grossman actually completed over 70% of his passes, 20-of-28, against the Colts. But he also committed three turnovers, including two interceptions, and he didn't make a big play all game. The Bears were running on 3rd-and-4, because Grossman isn't a good bet to pick up the first down, and he's a turnover threat every time he touches the ball. With mediocre QB play, the Bears still lose that game. But with anything above-average, Chicago might have stolen that game with turnovers and special teams.

Chicago's offense scored 10 points in this game, but it also surrendered seven on Hayden's interception return. That's a net of +3 points for the Bears' offense. Why did Chicago lose? Because the defense allowed more than three points.

Coaching

Where on earth were Lovie Smith and his assistants on Sunday? They played the same defense all game, and after that early interception, it never worked. Sure, they didn't give up the long ball, but they couldn't get off the field. Rather than scoring touchdowns quickly, the Colts scored field goals slowly, marching down the field and controlling time of possession. Chicago's defense was hopelessly winded by the end. On their last drive, the Colts handed off to Dominic Rhodes eight times in a row, mostly up the middle, and he picked up 30 yards and a pair of first downs. The Bears knew what was happening — they just couldn't stop it.

Chicago's offensive coaches didn't do much to help their cause, either. I've already written about their failure to establish the running game — and when Rex Grossman is your quarterback, that's a really important thing to do — but where was the attempt to shake things up? The Bears got some momentum by switching to a no-huddle offense late in the fourth quarter, but that was motivated by necessity. Why not try it earlier in the game, when Chicago's offense was busy doing nothing?

On the Indianapolis sideline, I think the Colts took an unnecessary risk by turning the ball over on downs at the end of the game, rather than attempting a 34-yard field goal to go up by 15. I know Dungy didn't want to run up the score, and I applaud that, but 1:42 is a lot of time, and while it was certainly unlikely, it was not beyond the realm of possibility that Chicago could have scored a quick touchdown and recovered an onside kick. You can't take chances like that.

MVP

In the five years I have covered the NFL for Sports Central, only once have I voted for a player who was actually chosen as Super Bowl MVP (Deion Branch, XXXIX). This year, I picked Joseph Addai. He led all players in yards from scrimmage (143) and nearly set a Super Bowl record for receptions (10). Addai was Indy's backbone early, picking up yards on the ground, and throughout the game, he was Manning's escape valve — gaining seven yards here, eight yards there — on short passes. He positively shredded the Bears, and it seemed like he made the first guy miss every time he touched the ball.

That said, Manning was not a bad choice. He had a solid, fairly mistake-free game, coping with both the elements and the Bears' defense. Manning became the ninth player to win Super Bowl MVP with an interception, and just the fourth QB to win MVP despite having at least as many interceptions as touchdown passes (joining Hall of Famers Len Dawson, Terry Bradshaw, and John Elway).

Lots of Indianapolis players would have been reasonable selections for the honor: besides Manning and Addai, Kelvin Hayden, Dominic Rhodes, and Bob Sanders all come to mind, not to mention pretty much everyone on the Colts' offensive line. A guy who's nowhere near an MVP candidate, but who made a couple of nice plays I noticed, was #43, Matt Giordano. He's the one who almost caught Devin Hester on the opening kickoff return, and he broke up Grossman's pass to Desmond Clark on 4th-and-9 — the one Clark had in his hands, for a first down — to effectively end the game with 5:05 left.

Soggy Field, Sloppy Game

Super Bowl XLI produced eight turnovers, including a Super Bowl-record four in the first quarter alone. Rain certainly played a role in that, and so did the play of the participants, but let's not discount slippery footballs. If bad officiating was the negative storyline in last year's postseason, this year it was the K-Ball used on kicking plays.

Tony Romo fumbled it on a key field goal attempt. Hunter Smith mishandled it on a punt in the wild card round, and on an extra point hold in the Super Bowl. Terrence Wilkins and Eric Parker muffed returns in the divisional round. Hester had three fumbles against Seattle. And on Sunday, Smith's dropped extra point snap was immediately followed by a fumble on the kickoff. The K-Ball is too slippery. It probably doesn't help that the league uses special footballs for the Super Bowl, either.

Until this year, the Colts' only Super Bowl victory was in 1971: Super Bowl V, in Miami, possibly the worst-played Super Bowl ever. The game was so heavily marked by offensive ineptitude that the game's MVP was won by a defensive player for the losing team. This year's game wasn't that bad, but it wasn't pretty, especially in the first quarter. After the game, Steve Young said of the sloppy play, "For a moment, I thought it was July and preseason."

Conclusion

It seems appropriate, for some reason, that Manning finished the game by handing off. He didn't attempt a single pass on the three-and-a-half minute drive Indianapolis used to close the game. While Manning and Dungy have gotten most of the attention — this column not excluded — the Colts' defense, running backs, and offensive line have unfairly been somewhat neglected, and all played vital roles in Sunday's victory.

It was a nice touch having Don Shula walk down the row of Colts players with the Lombardi Trophy. Shula, of course, used to coach the Colts, and also the host city's home team, the Miami Dolphins. I also liked seeing Norma Hunt and Dan Marino as honorary captains at the beginning of the contest.

Be sure to check back over the next week for an in-depth look at Manning's place in history, plus a column on this year's Hall of Fame class.

Comments and Conversation

February 16, 2007

Tanner Laverdure:

you favored the colts in your article you barely mentioned Manning throwing an interception

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