MIAMI - Peyton Manning’s supporting cast helped him reach the Super Bowl.
The Colts’ inability to get the little things right Sunday left all of them empty-handed.
From the dropped passes to the missed tackles, the failure to recover an onside kick to Manning’s game-sealing interception, Indianapolis blew chance after chance.
The result: Saints 31, Colts 17.
“I can’t say we ever saw that coming at all,” center Jeff Saturday said. “They just outplayed us.”
It was the first time all season Indianapolis could definitively say that.
After all, this was the can’t-miss Colts.
After breaking the NFL record with 23 consecutive regular-season wins, setting the league record for most victories in a decade (115) and giving up a shot at a perfect season, the Colts had only one goal: earning a second ring.
Well, that quest can start again next year. The Colts got it all wrong in Miami.
Indy’s young receivers, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, both failed to come up with big third-down catches. Reggie Wayne had only five catches for 46 yards and failed to get into the end zone.
Manning made an uncharacteristic gaffe, too, throwing a ball straight to cornerback Tracy Porter, who jumped Wayne’s route and ran it back 74 yards for the decisive score.
“He made a great play, he just made a great play, that’s all I can say,” Manning said.
The Colts defense had its own problems.
All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney was the only pass rusher to get consistent pressure on New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. And Freeney was playing with a torn ligament in his right ankle, which became more problematic in the second half after it stiffened up.
The Colts also repeatedly missed tackles, allowing New Orleans to pick up extra yardage and keep driving for scores.
None of it went according to the plan.
“What we did do well was take away the big plays,” defensive captain Gary Brackett said. “What we didn’t do well was wrapping up.”
One of the decisive miscues came on special teams.
Hank Baskett had a chance to make the Saints pay when they opened the second half with a surprise onside kick, trailing 10-6. The little-used receiver got his hands on the ball, but let it bounce away and New Orleans recovered to set up a TD drive.
Baskett’s wife, Kendra Wilkinson, was so upset she walked to the back of her suite. Baskett didn’t take questions after the game.
Teammates, however, called it the turning point.
“As the special teams captain, I felt like we didn’t do the little things right,” safety Melvin Bullitt said. “If we do, we’re getting the ball there at the (Saints’) 40 and it might have been a totally different game.”
But the way Indy played, it might not have mattered.
After New Orleans kicked its first field goal early in the second quarter, Garcon dropped a third-down pass that hit him in the shoulder. Indy ran only six plays in the period and didn’t pick up a first down.
There was more of the same in the second half.
Collie was stopped for a 3-yard loss on second-and-8, a play Manning bemoaned could’ve have gone for a first down had the rookie turned upfield. Manning came right back to Collie, who couldn’t catch a third-down pass.
On Indy’s next series, Porter picked off Manning and the Saints led 31-17 with 3:12 to go.
“You never know how it’s going to turn out,” said Manning, a former Super Bowl MVP. “The Colts started hot, the Saints came back. We just didn’t play well enough at certain times and in certain phases. The Saints deserved to win.”
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