Saints Beat Eagles In Wild Card Playoff, Advance To Seattle
The New Orleans Saints were a Wild Card playoff underdog on Saturday night in Philadelphia, but they showed some bite, defeathering the Eagles for a pulse-pounding walk-off 26-24 victory.
In a game with 5 lead changes, it was kicker Shayne Graham, who signed with the Saints 16 days ago, kicking a game-winning 32 yard field goal. It marked the end of an exciting game, one in which the Saints showed grit and toughness.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees did not have his best performance. In fact, his two interceptions in the first half cost the Saints momentum, allowing the Eagles to take advantage for a 7-6 halftime lead.
“Honestly, I think I tried to force two that I really didn’t need to in the first half," Brees told NBC's Michele Tofoya in postgame.
One thing the Saints did well in all 4 quarters was run the football. New Orleans offensive line was simply outstanding, winning the battle in the trenches from start to finish. As a team, the Saints ran for 185 yards, outrushing the Eagles by 105. With an injured Pierre Thomas unavailable, the Saints leaned on Mark Ingram and rookie Khiry Robinson.
Ingram was a workhorse, rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. His 5.4 yard average did wonders for the Saints offense, as did the 5.6 yard average of Robinson, who ended the night with 45 yards on 8 carries. His ability to grind out tough yards after contact late in the 4th quarter put the Saints in position to attempt the game-winning field goal with 3 seconds remaining, rather than have to kick the ball back to the Eagles.
"Offensively we rushed the ball terrific tonight, came up with some big plays, and won the game," said a smiling Brees.
Brees was much sharper in the second half, leading the Saints on their best drive of the night early in the third quarter. He capped it off with a 27 yard touchdown strike to Lance Moore. His final stat line of 250 yards on 20/30 passing, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions certainly isn't his best work, but it was enough to get the win.
"It was just about being patient, and taking what they gave us, we were running the ball effectively, and just mix and match the short passing game," said Brees of the 2nd half offense. "Everybody played great. This was a total team victory today."
A total team victory indeed. New Orleans defense overcame setbacks, and kept the NFL #1 ranked rushing attack in check.
Eagles RB LeSean McCoy could only gain 77 yards on 21 carriers. Philadelphia only averaged 3.6 yards a carry.
Philadelphia's passing game was flustered in the first half, dealing with pressure up front from the Saints defensive line.
New Orleans Pro-Bowl defensive end Cam Jordan finished with 1.5 sacks on the night, and the Saints secondary had a lot to do with it. Cornerback Keenan Lewis played DeSean Jackson in man coverage for most of the first three quarters, holding Jackson without a catch.However, Lewis left the game late in the 3rd quarter with a concussion, leaving the already thin Saints secondary in trouble.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles took advantage. going after backup Saints cornerbacks Corey White and Rod Sweeting. Jackson eventually finished with 3 receptions for 53 yards.
With the defense struggling to slow down Philadelphia late after Lewis' injury, the Saints offense took the field with 4:47 left in regulation, trailing 23-24. What did they do? Pound the rock, running on all but one play (an 8 yard reception by Marques Colston), converting on several third and shorts. (New Orleans finished the night 7-13 on third down, Eagles were 3-12) As the clock ticked down to 0:03, coach Sean Payton called a timeout, setting up Graham for the finish. Graham was 4-4 on the night, but none bigger than his last FG.
As Graham's 32 yard field goal sailed through the uprights, the New Orleans Saints knocked a giant monkey off their back. Heading into Saturday night, the Saints were 0-5 all-time in road playoff games. Many doubted the team that was 3-5 on the road this season could battle the cold temperatures and win in Philadelphia. The Saints proved to the doubters that they can no only win on the road with the season on the line, but can also do so when finishing -2 in the turnover department. The two point win is the smallest margin of victory in franchise playoff history.
"I thought our guys played hard tonight," said Payton. "I thought we eliminated the big plays (of the Eagles). They hit a few...but I thought our guys responded real well."
With the victory, the Saints now have a date with the #1 seeded Seattle Seahawks (13-3). Seattle hosted the Saints back on December 2nd, whipping New Orleans 34-7. Despite the defense, the Saints are feeling confidant about next Saturday's playoff matchup.
“It’s loud. They’ve got a good thing going there. They’ve only lost 1 game there in the last two years," said Brees of the Seahawks. "Having been there less than a month ago, I think serves us well, just knowing what to expect and how to prepare for it. We’re going to need our best game, that’s for sure.”
Beating the Eagles outdoors in the cold may erase any self-doubt the Saints had, though they probably never had any in the first place.
“I think it just adds to our confidence…getting this (win) outside in the cold, on the road, and everybody said we couldn’t do it," said defensive captain Curtis Lofton to Tafoya. "It just makes it that much more special. (Now) we got to get ready for Seattle.”
New Orleans battles the Seahawks next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 3:35.