Ea­gles’ of­fense falls asleep after tak­ing 14-0 lead; cru­cial Jef­fery mis­cue leads to costly pick

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY BARRY WIL­NER

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.

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