It was a fall from grace for the NFL’s favorite quarterback.

It was the rise of Drew Brees, and the return of the New Orleans Saints who took the field in September, October and November.

The Saints recovered an onside kick, they scored on an interception return and they leaned on a mistake-free Brees to upset the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 on Sunday in Miami. The Saints gambled and won, while Manning lost his air of Superman invincibility.

The bettors who sided with the Colts, myself included, expected Manning to make the difference — and he did, by throwing the pick that clinched it for the underdog.

The Saints proved to be the best team, and I think they were the best team all year,” M Resort sports book director Mike Colbert said. “But I think people got on the Peyton Manning bandwagon. He is great. He’s one of the best, if not the best ever. People kind of had him on a pedestal and said, ‘There’s no way he’s going to lose in the Super Bowl.’

‘But to me, he’s never been the best big-game player, and he was bad in the fourth quarter.’

Results were mixed at Las Vegas sports books. Despite an early wagering rush on Indianapolis, driving the opening line from 31/2 to as high as 6, most of the late money showed on the Saints. The line closed at 4 and 4 1/2.

A high volume of money-line bets on New Orleans to win straight up at about plus-180 (wager $100 to win $180) cut into the books’ profits.

‘I think it’s probably going to be a small winner (for the state) when it’s all said and done,” Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “We’re probably going to end up on the losing end, as a small loser. We had a lot of play on the Saints.’

The largest wager reported was a $2 million money-line play on Indianapolis, and it looked good when the Colts went up 10-0 in the first quarter. Spot 10 points to Manning and you would expect to be cashing.

But not this time.

Driving to try to tie the game with just over three minutes remaining, Manning was intercepted by Tracy Porter, who raced 74 yards to paydirt for the Saints and their bettors.

Brees, who completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns, was named Most Valuable Player. And Sean Payton was the better coach. But it was Brees who outdueled the league’s top gun.

‘Brees was phenomenal,” Colbert said. “He looked a little nervous early and he had the jitters, but he shook it off.’

Kornegay said the Hilton, unlike the MGM Mirage and M Resort, never got any big money-line play on the Colts. Colbert said he held the line at 41/2, because he wanted wagers on the favorite.

‘We needed the Saints. We liked the Saints. We never moved off the number,’ Colbert said. ‘Obviously, we could have been wrong. But we thought the Saints were live, and they ended up being live.’

By most estimates, the Nevada wagering handle will exceed last year’s $81.5 million but fall short of the record $94.5 million in 2006.

‘I would say our handle is going to be up about 3 percent. It finished real strong,’ MGM Mirage sports book director Jay Rood said. ‘I can’t complain. I would gauge it a success.’

Colbert was the most optimistic, saying the M Resort raked in ‘just under” $10 million in Super Bowl bets in its first year. “Our handle was insane,’ he said.

Proposition wagering accounts for about 50 percent of the Hilton’s handle, a higher percentage than any other book. One prop that hurt the books, paying off about plus-500, was on a successful two-point conversion. Brees passed for one.


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