AFC

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - SPORTS -

NEW OR­LEANS — When the New Or­leans 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 over the Philadel­phia Ea­gles.

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 usu­ally sure-handed re­ceiver Al­shon Jef­fery with about two min­utes re­main­ing. A cou­ple dozen Saints play­ers surged off the side­line to­ward the end zone in cel­e­bra­tion, while Jef­fery fell face­first to the turf in agony.

New Or­leans (14-3) will host the NFC ti­tle game next week against the Rams (13-4). Los An­ge­les,

“It’s go­ing to be a good game,” Brady said of the re­match with the Chiefs. “They’re a good team. We played them ear­lier this year. I know ev­ery­body thinks we suck and, you know, we can’t win any games, so we’ll see. It’ll be fun.”

The Charg­ers (13-5) haven’t reached the AFC ti­tle game since the 2007 sea­son.

Philip Rivers fin­ished 25 of 51 for 331 yards, three touch- downs and an in­ter­cep­tion. He is 0-5 in games played in Foxbor­ough, in­clud­ing 0-3 in the post­sea­son.

Brady fin­ished 34 of 44 for 343 yards and a touch­down. He im­proves to 8-0 as a starter against Rivers, who drops to 1-8 against New Eng­land all-time.

For Rivers, see­ing Brady again pick apart the Char- gers de­fense was an­other re­minder that he was com- pet­ing against one of the best quar­ter­backs in NFL his­tory.

“He’s up there if not the all-time great, then one of,” Rivers said. “That ar­gu­ment can go on for­ever . ... Was he rolling at the high­est level to­day? I think we can all agree on that.”

James White tied Dar­ren Spro­les’ NFL post­sea­son record with 15 catches, to­tal­ing 97 yards.

New Eng­land scored on its first four pos­ses­sions of the game to build a 35-7 half- time lead.

Ju­lian Edel­man had nine catches for 151 yards. He said the run game opened up the field for the rest of the of­fense.

“It was awe­some to get Sony out there truck­ing,” said Edel­man. “Rex (Bur- khead) was out there, he scored. And ‘Sweet Feet’ ( James White) be­ing ‘Sweet Feet.’ Sony’s over there be­ing a lit­tle horse. It was awe­some.”

The Charg­ers added three touch­downs in the sec­ond half, but it was much too late.

Los An­ge­les lost for just the sec­ond time on the road (8-2) and first time out­side Los An­ge­les this sea­son. In their past four trips to the play­offs, the Charg­ers have lost in the di­vi­sional round.

“We got our butts kicked,” Los An­ge­les coach An­thony Lynn said.

Rivers seemed poised to keep Los An­ge­les in the game, con­nec t ing with Keenan Allen for a 43-yard score on Los An­ge­les’ first of­fen­sive pos­ses­sion.

It turned out to be just a blip. The Charg­ers punted the four other times they had the ball in the first half.

The Pa­tri­ots were ef­fi­cient through­out the open­ing 30 min­utes, go­ing 5 for 5 in the red zone, 5 of 6 on third down and com­mit­ting only one penalty.

New Eng­land didn’t go three-and-out for the first time un­til its fifth of­fen­sive touch of the day when it punted with 3:32 left in the sec­ond quar­ter.

But Ryan Allen’s 48-yard punt was fum­bled by Des­mond King , send­ing the ball rolling to­ward the side­line. The ref­er­ees ruled the ball went out of bounds b efore New E ng­land’s Al­bert McClel­lan ap­peared to re­cover it. But the play was re­versed af­ter a chal­lenge by Bill Belichick.

The turnover proved costly, with the Pa­tri­ots scor­ing just four plays later when Michel crossed the goal line from 5 yards for his third touch­down of the half.

Asked if this vic­tory proved at least some of the Pa­tri­ots’ doubters wrong, Brady paused and smiled.

“I just like win­ning,” he said. “I just like win­ning.”

M il es­tones: Michel be­came just the sec­ond Pa­tri­ots rookie in fran­chise his­tory to have a rush­ing touch­down in the post­sea­son. He joined fel­low Ge­or­gia alum, Robert Ed­wards, who ran for a touch­down as a rookie in New Eng­land’s 1998 wild­card loss to Jacksonville.

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