Eagles well aware what Saints can do
NEW ORLEANS — Sean Payton dismisses the premise that the Eagles could derive extra motivation from the widespread perception that the Saints ran up the score on them when they met in November.
“My question would be: We’re all playing hard in these divisional playoff games, right?” the Saints coach began, referring to Sunday’s rematch in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. “Are you going to play harder” because of a perceived slight?
Still, Payton expects a more competitive affair than the Saints’ 48-7 blowout Nov. 18, which gave the Eagles the dubious distinction of becoming the first reigning Super Bowl champion to lose by that wide a margin in the following regular season.
The Eagles (10-7) appeared to be sinking fast when their loss in New Orleans dropped them to 4-6. But they’ve rallied to win six of seven since, including a road victory against the Rams that helped the Saints (13-3) capture the conference’s top seed.
“They’ve kind of been in a playoff role really going back to those games, needing to win to get in,” Payton noted. “So it’s impressive.”
Now the Eagles, who opened as 10-point underdogs this week, can ruin the Saints’ Super Bowl dreams with a second straight road upset.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said. “We’re a completely different team than we were seven weeks ago. I don’t think the team that showed up on that Sunday is even remotely close to the team that we are right now.”
Such a lopsided loss in New Orleans could have resulted in finger-pointing and a fractured locker room, Ertz suggested. Instead, Ertz said, “It was a rallying point for our season.”
The Eagles survived last week’s wild-card round with a 16-15 victory in which quarterback Nick Foles — who’s won four straight starts since taking over for injured starter Carson Wentz — engineered a late scoring drive capped by a fourth-down touchdown pass. And that only stood up after Bears kicker Cody Parkey’s “double-doink” miss on a fieldgoal attempt that hit both the upright and crossbar in the final seconds.
The Eagles likely will need more offense in the Superdome, where the Saints averaged 37 points in Drew Brees’ seven home starts before the recordsetting QB got a rest day during the club’s anti-climactic regularseason finale.
“I assume they’ll come in as motivated as ever. Just like we’re going to come in as motivated as ever,” Brees said. “Just two really good teams about to play in a playoff game.”