NFL PLAY­OFFS

Brees leads rally from 14-0 deficit; late in­ter­cep­tion seals Philly’s fate

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SPORTING GREEN - By Barry Wilner Barry Wilner is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

NEW OR­LEANS — When the Saints fi­nally found their rhythm, they marched one step closer to the Su­per Bowl.

Be­hind two touch­down passes from Drew Brees and two in­ter­cep­tions from Mar­cus Lat­ti­more, New Or­leans ad­vanced to the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game with a 20-14 vic­tory over the Ea­gles on Sun­day to end the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons’ post­sea­son run.

Brees took the Saints on scor­ing drives of 92, 79 and 67 yards af­ter fall­ing be­hind 14-0. Lat­ti­more clinched it when Nick Foles’ pass from the Saints’ 27 de­flected off the hands of Philadel­phia re­ceiver Al­shon Jef­fery with about two min­utes re­main­ing. A cou­ple dozen New Or­leans play­ers surged off the side­line to­ward the end zone in cel­e­bra­tion, while Jef­fery fell face-first to the turf in despair.

“We were real calm and poised and we knew we were go­ing to get things done,” Brees said.

New Or­leans will host the NFC ti­tle game Sun­day against the Rams, who lost 45-35 to the host Saints in Novem­ber.

Wil Lutz added two field goals for New Or­leans, who last got this far in the 2009 sea­son, when the Saints won the Su­per Bowl.

“We were go­ing down to win, but I just felt like we beat our­selves, hon­estly,” Jef­fery said. “Hats off to those guys.”

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. We knew it was go­ing to be dif­fer­ent than last time.”

Af­ter that open­ing pe­riod, it was all New Or­leans, yet the Ea­gles kept it close enough that when Lutz missed a 52yard field-goal at­tempt with 2:58 re­main­ing, they were only one score be­hind.

Foles, the key to last year’s Su­per Bowl ti­tle, got them in po­si­tion for yet an­other late win­ning score — just like the pre­vi­ous Sun­day at Chicago and last Fe­bru­ary against New Eng­land for the cham­pi­onship.

Jef­fery then couldn’t han­dle a sec­ond-down pass, and it was over.

“That’s a great cham­pi­onship team,” New Or­leans coach Sean Pay­ton said of the Ea­gles. “We re­mained con­fi­dent.”

Brees had 2-yard touch­down passes to rookie Keith Kirk­wood and All-Pro wide­out Michael Thomas, who had 12 re­cep­tions for a fran­chise play­off-record 171 yards.

Thomas’ touch­down, the Saints’ go-ahead score, capped an 18-play, 92-yard drive in which New Or­leans ac­tu­ally cov­ered more than 100 yards be­cause of penal­ties. It lasted 11½ min­utes.

“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.”

Philadel­phia had the ball for more than nine min­utes in the first quar­ter, af­ter which the Ea­gles had the ball about 13 min­utes and did not score.

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 in­ter­cepted by Cre’Von LeBlanc.

“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.”

The Ea­gles were in con­trol, up 14-0, 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 4 yards for a first down. They also went on 4th-and-goal from the 2, and Philadel­phia sur­ren­dered Kirk­wood’s 2-yard touch­down.

“When you just get that in guys’ minds that we’re go­ing to be ag­gres­sive, that we’re go­ing to play to win, it al­lows guys to re­lax and to cut loose,” Brees said.

With Brees find­ing the range and his re­ceivers find­ing loads of room to roam, New Or­leans crept to 14-10 at half­time on Lutz’s 45-yard field goal.

Ger­ald Her­bert / As­so­ci­ated Press

Drew Brees and the Saints will host the NFC ti­tle game.

Butch Dill / As­so­ci­ated Press

New Or­leans de­fen­sive end Cameron Jor­dan offers a hand to Al­shon Jef­fery, who couldn’t pull in Philadel­phia’s last pass.

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