MIAMI, February 5- Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, prolific passers and emotional leaders of quick-striking offenses, are set for starring roles when the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints meet in Sunday's Super Bowl.
Brees completed a National Football League-best 70.6 percent of his tosses for 4,388 yards and 34 touchdowns to ignite a New Orleans attack that led the NFL in scoring and total yardage and put the Saints in their first Super Bowl.
"He brings the level of competition up for everyone," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We wouldn’t be here without him."
Manning connected on 68.8 percent of his throws for 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns as the Colts won an NFL-high seven times when trailing in the fourth quarter and moved within one triumph of a second NFL crown in four seasons.
"I have all the confidence in the world. A lot of that comes from him," said Colts center Jim Saturday. "Regardless of the score, we’re not out of it. We can score quickly if we have to. Nobody throws in the towel."
An emotional backdrop for the championship spectacle centers around New Orleans, still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but devoted to their beloved Saints, a laughing-stock for most of their 43 seasons.
"All the time they tell us we inspire them. They inspire us," Saints center Jonathan Goodwin said. "The city is fighting back and improving evey day."
Brees has given a city which withstood flooding, destruction and more than 1,000 deaths something to rally around and a reason to cheer.
"Our success has been tremendous in regards to giving so many people hope and lifting their spirits when there is still a lot of work to be done rebuilding," Brees said.
"This has been a storybook season. We don’t look at it as extra pressure. We see it as a sense of responsibility and we really gain strength from the people of New Orleans, just knowing their spirit is with us."
No one knows better than Manning how much that means. He grew up in New Orleans, the son of former Saints quarterback Archie Manning.
"What the Saints have meant to that community is extremely impressive," said Manning. "Drew has been a leader of that on and off the field."
Manning’s favorite targets are receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwight Clark, each with 100 catches this season, but newcomers Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon and running back Joseph Addai, whose ground threat keeps defenses from overloading against the pass, have become more critical in the playoffs.
Garcon, of Haitian heritage, takes extra motivation in trying to inspire earthquake survivors in his parents’ homeland and leads the Colts in the playoffs with 16 catches for 185 yards.
"It has made me play harder and tougher and appreciate where I am," Garcon said. "I’m playing for them."
Marques Colston and Devery Henderson have been the Saints’ top receivers with tight end Jeremy Shockey and running back Reggie Bush also threats to get the ball from Brees.
Each side boasts a skilled defensive unit that made critical plays to ensure playoff triumphs. Whichever steps up to stifle their rivals longest could make a championship difference.
"I expect a tough defense," Manning said. "I know it’s going to be a challenge to move the ball against them. They are very active. They know how to get their hands on the football. We have our work cut out for us."
The Colts converted 49 percent of third-down opportunities to sustain drives this season, in part because of Manning’s skills at adapting to defensive schemes during games.
"There’s a lot of adjusting and making moves as we go," Clark said. "After the first few series, we will get a feel for what they are trying to do. We just have to adjust."