Philly was fighting for its Wild Card life and appeared to be in good shape. Once Nick Foles hit tight end Zach Ertz for a 3-yard touchdown with 3:10 remaining to give The Green Machine a 24-23 lead, HC Chip Kelly appeared on his way to continuing his magical rookie season and Philly's dramatic worst-to-first turnaround into the next round.
The game was evenly matched throughout, but you still kind of had the feeling that the Saints were the superior team and eventually would prevail. Ironically, it wasn't because of the golden arm of QB Drew Brees as one might expect. On a night when Brees' wonder wing failed him at times and Riley Cooper's hands couldn't match the razor-sharpness of his mouth; the Saints showed that they are a more well-balanced team than given credit for and won this playoff game on the legs of three players.
Mark Ingram (97 yards rushing) led a pounding rushing attack that scorched Philly for 185 yards.The forgotten Heisman winner starting for injured back Pierre Thomas, out-stepped the NFL's leading-rusher Shady McCoy, who was held to an ineffective 77 yards.
Darren Sproles, one of the greatest return men in NFL history used his all-world wheels to rip off a 39-yard return following Philly's score and a horse collar tacked on 15 more yards, setting up journeyman kicker Shane Graham's 32-yard field goal (one of four field goals) as time expired to lift the Saints to a 26-24 win over the Eagles during Saturday's Wild Card Weekend.
The kick helped New Orleans' bag their first road playoff win in franchise history. The Saints will march on to meet the ball-hawking Seattle Seahawks in next week's divisional round.
It was a typical playoff game. You throw all of the regular season snot in the garbage and circumstances kind of force you to play throwback ball. Rob Ryan had the Saints D turned all the way up as they stifled Kelly's "Pinky and The Brain" offense for most of the game, limiting Philly to just 256 yards. In his NFL posteason introduction, Philly slinger Nick Foles threw for less than 200 yards for just the second time since Week 9.
Philly also played inspired D, picking Brees twice in the first half. That doesn't happen often and you'd think Philly would take advantage of such a rare occurence. Who would believe that the Saints would win with Brees throwing multiple picks in a playoff game ?
Especially considering in his three prior road playoff losses he's averaging like 400 yards passing and has just three times in 172 throws.
Coming into Saturday's matchup against the Eagles, Brees had thrown 392 passes in nine postseason games with the Saints and the San Diego Chargers before that. And in those 392 passes, Brees had thrown just four interceptions to 22 touchdowns. Three of those picks came on the road — one against the Chicago Bears in the 2006 playoffs, and two against the San Francisco 49ers in the 2011 postseason.
You cant give a cat like Brees the rock at midfield with the game on the line, no matter how suspect he's performing. For most teams that's always a recipe for disaster because more often than not the new-age Doug Flutie is going to make you pay. This is a guy who carries a larger burden on his team than almost any of the great ones. And in the playoffs, he’s got a passer rating over 100 – something Brady (87.4) and Manning (88.4) can’t sniff.
On Saturday night at the Linc, all of that stuff was thrown out of the window and there was an old school feel to the game. A stark contrast to the day's earlier shootout between the Colts 45-44 comeback shocker against KC, where defense and rushing were stepchildren to aerial excellence and chunks of yardage being piled up.
The Saints will have to manufacture points and use a ball-control offense against a dangerous Seattle D next week, so this was a dope warmup. Points will be even harder to come by, but Saints HC Sean Payton has got to be confident knowing his team is not as one-dimensional as some pundits have labeled them.
"I get it, we understand that stereotype that sometimes comes with a team that plays inside, and we can't change that,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said of the narrative that accompanied the team to Philadelphia, where the game-time temperature was a brisk 25 degrees. "We kind of like the environment that we play in and we traveled pretty well tonight.''
"When you get to win a game like that, you've broken it down to the essence of football,'' Payton said. "The line of scrimmage was the difference, I think.''