FAN­TAS­TIC FI­NAL FOUR

Saints and Pa­tri­ots join Chiefs, Rams in po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive Su­per Bowl semis next Sun­day

Toronto Sun - - SPORTS - DON BREN­NAN

NEW OR­LEANS — What can now be re­mem­bered as a vic­tory dance was per­formed late in the 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 MercedesBenz 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 ex­plained to the lone Cana­dian re­porter 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 two­yard scor­ing toss.

“I think the turn­ing point was re­ally that 23-play drive that lasted 11½ 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 end re­sult, a 20-14 vic­tory, 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 its crown since the 2004 Pa­tri­ots.

The Saints will now host the Los An­gles Rams in the NFC cham­pi­onship game next Sun­day.

The de­fen­sive hero of the day was Saints cor­ner­back

Marshon Lat­ti­more, whose sec­ond in­ter­cep­tion of the day near the New Or­leans 30 yard line with just less than two min­utes left killed any chance of an Ea­gles come­back. The per­fectly thrown ball slipped through the hands of Ea­gles re­ceiver Al­shon Jef­frey.

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.

“It felt like that ma­jor was go­ing to con­tinue.”

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 for their own good. Try­ing to hit Zach Ertz with a deep ball down the left side­line, Lat­ti­more jumped up and grabbed the 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.”

The day could not have started worse for the Saints.

After tak­ing the game’s first snap, Brees was in­ter­cepted by Cre’ Von LeBlanc as tried to hit Ted Ginn Jr. with a bomb over the mid­dle.

Foles then pro­ceeded to or­ches­trate a seven-play, 76-yard drive that he con­cluded with a 34-yard touch­down pass to Jor­dan Matthews. The Saints went three-and-out with the next pos­ses­sion, which in­cluded a no-gain run and two in­com­plete passes. Foles im­me­di­ately went back to work, tak­ing the Ea­gles on an­other long march, this one last­ing 10 plays and cov­er­ing 75 yards. Foles him­self took care of the lasts 36 inches, go­ing up the mid­dle for the score.

After the suc­cess­ful con­vert, the Ea­gles were up 14-0 and 151 yards of of­fence.

The Saints had ze­ros across the board.

But 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 take­aways 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 them 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.”

Both teams lost key per­son­nel within a minute near the mid­way mark of the open­ing quar­ter. First, Saints de­fen­sive line­man Shel­don Rank­ins was carted off the field with what was be­lieved to be a torn Achilles. A cou­ple of plays later, an­other cart was out to get Bran­don Brooks, the Ea­gles’ Pro Bowl guard.

NFL in­sider Ian Rapoport tweeted later that Jef­fery played the game with cracked ribs; know­ing about the in­jury through a MRI ear­lier in the week.

CHRIS GRAYTHEN/GETTY IMAGES

CHRIS GRAYTHEN/GETTY IMAGES

Ea­gles’ Al­shon Jef­fery lies on the Su­per­dome turf after al­low­ing a pass to go through his hands that led to a game-clinch­ing in­ter­cep­tion by the Saints last night.

SCOTT CLAUSE/THE DAILY AD­VER­TISER VIA AP

Saints run­ning back Alvin Ka­mara is shoved out of bounds by Ea­gles cor­ner­back Avonte Mad­dox last night in New Or­leans.

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