PHILLY SPECIAL NO LONGER
Eagles’ offense falls asleep after taking 14-0 lead; crucial Jeffery miscue leads to costly pick
NEW ORLEANS — When the Saints finally found their rhythm, they marched one step closer to the Super Bowl.
Using a dominant ball-control offense 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 against the Eagles.
Brees took the Saints on scoring drives of 92, 79 and 67 yards after falling behind 14-0. Lattimore clinched it with a pick when Nick Foles’ pass from the Saints’ 27-yard line deflected off usually sure-handed receiver Alshon Jeffery with about two minutes left. 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.
“We were real calm and poised, and we knew we were going to get things done,” Brees said.
New Orleans will host the NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the Rams. The Saints beat the Rams 45-35 in November at the Superdome.
Wil Lutz added two field goals for the Saints, who last got this far in 2009, when they won the Super Bowl. Lutz did miss a 52yard field goal that would have iced the game with 2:58 remaining.
With the Eagles’ loss, no team has repeated as champs since the 2004 Patriots.
“We were going down to win, but I just felt like we beat ourselves, honestly,” Jeffery said. “Hats off to those guys.”
Eagles coach Doug Pederson thought his team was on its way to pulling off another stunning comeback win.
“It just felt like the momentum at that point was in our favor,” he said. “It’s been that way all season, and we felt like that sort of magic was going to continue.”
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.”
Foles, the hero of last year’s Super Bowl run, got them in position for yet another late winning score. 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, a Saints’ playoff record.
Thomas’ touchdown capped an 18-play, 92-yard drive in which the Saints actually covered more than 100 yards because of penalties. It lasted 11½ minutes and gave the Saints a 17-14 lead.
“What you saw from him today is what I see every day in practice,” Brees said of Thomas. “He’s a big-time player who wants to be the guy to make plays.”
The Eagles had the ball for more than nine minutes in the first quarter, after which they had the ball about 13 minutes 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 because of injuries.
“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 the Saints.
Foles completed all five throws on a 76yard drive capped by Jordan Matthews’ 37-yard touchdown 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 lead.
The Eagles 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 2, and Philadelphia’s rapidly depleting defense surrendered Kirkwood’s two-yard touchdown.
Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery is despondent after a pass went through his hands and was intercepted by the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore on the Eagles’ final drive.