Saints top­ple Ea­gles after rough start

De­fend­ing champs will not re­peat after late New Or­leans in­ter­cep­tion seals win

Montreal Gazette - - SPORTS - BARRY WIL­NER

When the New Or­leans Saints fi­nally found their rhythm, they marched one step closer to the Su­per Bowl. Us­ing a dom­i­nant ball-con­trol of­fence and a few gam­bles that paid off, the Saints got two touch­down passes from Drew Brees and two in­ter­cep­tions from Mar­cus Lat­ti­more in a 20-14 vic­tory over the Philadel­phia Ea­gles. Brees took the Saints on scor­ing drives of 92, 79 and 67 yards after fall­ing be­hind 14-0. Lat­ti­more clinched it when Nick Foles’ pass from the Saints’ 27-yard-line de­flected off usu­ally sure-handed re­ceiver Al­shon Jef­fery with about two min­utes re­main­ing. A cou­ple dozen Saints play­ers surged off the side­line to­ward the end zone in cel­e­bra­tion, while Jef­fery fell face-first to the turf in agony. New Or­leans (14-3) will host the NFC ti­tle game next week against the L.A. Rams (13-4). Los An­ge­les, which fell 45-35 at the Su­per­dome in Novem­ber, will try again next week, with the win­ner go­ing to the Su­per Bowl. The Saints’ win fin­ished off a sweep of the di­vi­sional round by teams com­ing off byes. Wil Lutz added two field goals for the Saints, who last got this far in 2009, when they won the Su­per Bowl. Philadel­phia (10-8) will not re­peat as NFL cham­pion; no team has done so since the 2004 New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots. This was re­ally two games in one. Philly scored on its first two drives as the Saints could do vir­tu­ally noth­ing right. “Lis­ten, they got off to a fast start, they’re a great team,” Brees said. “Nick Foles has done a phe­nom­e­nal job for them. We knew it was go­ing to be dif­fer­ent than last time.” After that open­ing pe­riod, it was all New Or­leans, yet the re­silient Ea­gles kept it close enough that when Lutz missed a 52-yard field goal with 2:58 re­main­ing, the Ea­gles were only one score be­hind. Foles, the hero of last year’s Su­per Bowl run, got them in po­si­tion for yet an­other late win­ning score — just like last week at Chicago and last Fe­bru­ary against New Eng­land for the cham­pi­onship. Then, Jef­fery couldn’t han­dle a sec­ond-down pass, and it was over. “That’s a great cham­pi­onship team,” Saints coach Sean Pay­ton said of the Ea­gles. “We re­mained con­fi­dent.” Brees had two-yard touch­down passes to rookie Keith Kirk­wood and All-Pro wide­out Michael Thomas, who had 12 re­cep­tions for 171 yards. Philadel­phia had the ball for more than nine min­utes in the first quar­ter, after which the Ea­gles had the ball about 13 min­utes to­tal and never scored. New Or­leans, which routed Philadel­phia 48-7 in Novem­ber, gam­bled on its first play — and lost. Brees was a bit short on a deep pass to Ted Ginn Jr., and it was picked off by Cre’Von LeBlanc, one of sev­eral Ea­gles back­ups be­ing used in the sec­ondary due to in­juries dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son. “I just think we had to find our rhythm,” Brees said. “I tried to take a shot on the first play. Un­for­tu­nately, that didn’t work.” After the first quar­ter, though, a lot worked for New Or­leans. But first, Foles com­pleted all five throws on a 76-yard drive capped by Jor­dan Matthews’ 37-yard TD catch. The Ea­gles, who quickly fell be­hind 17-0 in that pre­vi­ous Su­per­dome loss, sud­denly led 7-0. Not long after, a 75-yard drive high­lighted by a 30-yard pass to Jef­fery ended with Foles’ short leap over the goal line for a 14-0 edge. The vis­i­tors were in con­trol un­til Lat­ti­more picked off Foles’ deep throw to Zach Ertz. The Saints showed plenty of moxie on their 79-yard march to a touch­down, fak­ing a punt at their 30, with Taysom Hill run­ning four yards for a first down. They also went for it on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard-line, and Philadel­phia’s rapidly de­plet­ing de­fence sur­ren­dered Kirk­wood’s two-yard touch­down. With Brees find­ing the range and his re­ceivers find­ing loads of room to roam, New Or­leans crept to within four when they made it 14-10 at half­time on Lutz’s 45yard field goal.

UGLY START

Maybe the Saints were rusty after their wild-card bye, but they got two first downs, in­clud­ing one by penalty, gained 17 yards, and Brees threw an in­ter­cep­tion and had a fum­ble that was re­cov­ered by team­mate Ryan Ram­czyk in the open­ing pe­riod. Mean­while, Philly gained 153 yards and scored two TDs, and Foles went 8 of 9 for 113. But Foles was in­ter­cepted by Lat­ti­more early in the sec­ond quar­ter, and the Saints fi­nally got go­ing.

IN­JURIES

In a span of three plays, two starters were hurt and needed to be carted off. First, Saints de­fen­sive tackle Shel­don Rank­ins went down mid­way in the first quar­ter, un­able to put any weight on his left foot. Two plays later, Ea­gles right guard Bran­don Brooks hurt his right leg and de­parted. Philly also lost DB Ra­sul Dou­glas in the sec­ond quar­ter to an an­kle in­jury, but he was back in the sec­ond half. DLs Fletcher Cox, an All-Pro, and Michael Ben­nett also were side­lined at times be­fore re­turn­ing. In the fourth quar­ter, left tackle Ja­son Peters left.

BILL FEIG/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New Or­leans Saints quar­ter­back Drew Brees is mov­ing on to the next round while Philadel­phia Ea­gles quar­ter­back Nick Foles is headed home.

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