Saints overcome rough start to rally past Eagles
What can now be remembered as a victory dance was performed late in the very lopsided third quarter by two New Orleans Saints big men — defensive end Cameron Jordan and linebacker Demario Davis.
They had just witnessed something very special when, standing on the sidelines, Choppa Style blared over the sound system at Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
They could not contain their excitement.
As the jumbotron focused on first Jordan, then Davis, shakin’ and gyratin’, 73,027 fans went absolutely bonkers.
“Oh man, there’s nothing like the Dome, man,” Davis said later.
“We’ve got the most electric crowd in the NFL. Choppa Style, that’s our theme song right now. When that comes on, the crowd, they feed off it, so we feed off of it. It’s kind of like we’re doing our thing in that moment. We’re in our element.”
Doing his thing to set off the party was Drew Brees, the future Hall of Fame quarterback who turns 40 on Tuesday.
After a start in which just about everything that could go wrong did, the Saints scratched and clawed their way back into the NFC divisional round playoff against the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles.
And when Brees was given the ball in the third quarter, he didn’t give it back until the Saints finally had the lead, after he combined with Michael Thomas on a two-yard scoring toss.
“I think the turning point was really that 23-play drive that lasted 111/2 minutes, that kind of took us from our own eight-yard line to get a touchdown,” said Brees, before chuckling. “I was just told that we actually gained 117 yards on that drive ... I wonder if that’s a record ... because of the penalties that kept setting us back. But yeah, we went on a 117-yard drive in the third quarter to take the lead and then didn’t really look back.”
The result, a 20-14 win, ends a 4-0 playoff run by Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and coach Doug Pederson that included last year’s Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.
It also crushed the Eagles’ attempt to be the first team to successfully defend their crown since the 2004 Patriots.
The Saints will now host the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC championship game Sunday.
The defensive hero of the day was Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, whose second interception, near the New Orleans’ 30-yard line with just under two minutes left killed any chance of an Eagles comeback.
Until then, Pederson believed the Eagles would prevail.
“I thought that we were on our way,” he said. “We got back (in it). It just felt like the momentum at that point was in our favour.”
Lattimore gave the Saints their first breath of life with his earlier pick. With a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, the Eagles became a little too aggressive.
Trying to hit Zach Ertz with a deep ball down the left sideline, Lattimore jumped up and grabbed the Foles pass.
That turned out to be the reality check the Saints needed.
Originally getting nowhere with the ensuing drive, Saints coach Sean Payton called a direct snap fake from punt formation.
Backup quarterback Taysom Hill gained the first down.
With momentum gathering, the Saints marched all the way to the Eagles’ two before the drive stalled. Payton gambled again on fourth down, this time resulting in a short touchdown toss to Keith Kirkwood.
Finally, the home team was on the board. And the crowd responded accordingly.
“I saw the (sound) meter get to 128, 130. I have never seen it that high,” said running back Mark Ingram, an eight-year veteran with the Saints.
“They (the fans) brought it, and we are going to need it all the way through the playoffs.”
And while the New Orleans offence was getting its act together, the defence tightened up.
“They had us reeling early on,” said Davis. “We stayed true to our goals. We were able to stop the run, get a little pressure on the quarterback ... those two take-aways by Marshon were huge. They were game-changing. It was the trump card.”
Said Brees: “We found a bunch of ways to win during the season. Many of (those wins) came down to third quarter, fourth quarter, second half-type comebacks, where it took everybody. But they were all great team victories. Looks like that’s carrying over in the playoffs.”
New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara carries to the one yard line as Tre Sullivan pursues in the Saints’ 20-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday.