Saints hold serve in Su­per­dome, dethrone Ea­gles

Will host Rams with Su­per Bowl spot on line

The Buffalo News - - NFL -

Over­com­ing a hor­rid start and a 14-point first-quar­ter deficit, Drew Brees threw for 301 yards and two touch­downs and lifted the host New Or­leans Saints to a 20-14 NFC di­vi­sional play­off vic­tory over the Philadel­phia Ea­gles on Sun­day at the Mercedes-Benz Su­per­dome.

Saints cor­ner­back Marshon Lat­ti­more in­ter­cepted a Nick Foles pass – which went through the hands of Al­shon Jef­fery – at the New Or­leans 19-yard line and re­turned it to the Saints’ 33 with 1:52 re­main­ing, and run­ning back Alvin Ka­mara ran for 12 yards on third-and-10 in the fi­nal minute to kill the clock.

The No. 1-seeded Saints (14-3) trailed 14-0 just 10:23 into the game but scored 20 unan­swered points to ad­vance to the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game next Sun­day af­ter­noon against the Los An­ge­les Rams at the Su­per­dome.

After start­ing 0 for 3, in­clud­ing an in­ter­cep­tion on the first play of the game, Brees fin­ished 28 of 38 with scor­ing passes of 2 yards each to Keith Kirk­wood and Michael Thomas. Thomas set Saints’ play­off records with 12 catches and 171 yards re­ceiv­ing.

“De­fen­sively in the sec­ond half, we were out­stand­ing,” Saints coach Sean Pay­ton told re­porters fol­low­ing the game. “It wasn’t a per­fect game. There’s a lot of things we have to clean up. But we got the win against the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons, and that means a lot . ... We’ve played from be­hind quite a bit in the reg­u­lar sea­son, and we’ve been able to come back . ... We did a great job of get­ting off the field on third down.”

The sixth-seeded Ea­gles (10-8) played valiantly de­spite a flurry of in­juries. Foles com­pleted 18 of 31 passes for 201 yards, but Philadel­phia’s of­fense failed over the fi­nal three quar­ters, amass­ing just 97 yards after 153 in the first.

New Or­leans took its first lead of the game, 17-14, by cap­i­tal­iz­ing on a with­er­ing, 18-play, 92-yard drive that con­sumed 11:29 of the third quar­ter and net­ted the Saints nine first downs. Brees com­pleted 8 of 10 passes for 80 yards on the march, on which the Saints over­came two hold­ing penal­ties and a false start. One of the hold­ing penal­ties, on left guard An­drus Peat, nul­li­fied a 46-yard scor­ing pass from Taysom Hill to Ka­mara.

Brees even­tu­ally got the touch­down, find­ing Thomas in man cov­er­age against Cre’Von LeBlanc for a 2-yard score.

“It im­pacts you rel­a­tive to the num­ber of snaps played, most im­por­tantly with your de­fense and their rest and your op­po­nent get­ting that many snaps (on de­fense),” Pay­ton said of the drive’s im­por­tance. “A lot had to hap­pen for that to take place. Re­gret­fully, those penal­ties hurt us, but we were able to over­come them.”

Wil Lutz ex­tended the Saints’ lead to 20-14 with a 39-yard field goal with 10:28 left, but it re­mained a one-pos­ses­sion game.

When Lutz missed a 52-yard field­goal at­tempt wide right with 2:58 re­main­ing, the Ea­gles had new life at their own 42. But Jef­fery’s drop of Foles’ pass and Lat­ti­more’s in­ter­cep­tion – his sec­ond of the game – sealed Philadel­phia’s fate.

“He told me he loved play­ing with me and we wouldn’t have won a Su­per Bowl with­out me,” Jef­frey told the me­dia after the game of what Foles said to him. “Still, I let the city of Philadel­phia down.”

Ea­gles coach Doug Ped­er­son told re­porters that prior to the in­ter­cep­tion he be­lieved his team would cap­i­tal­ize on Lutz’s miss.

“I thought we were on our way, that we got that. It just felt like the mo­men­tum at that point was in our fa­vor, in our hands. It’s been that way all sea­son. I felt like the magic was go­ing to con­tinue.”

The Ea­gles dom­i­nated the first quar­ter, jump­ing to a 14-0 lead and at one point hold­ing a to­tal yardage ad­van­tage of 151-0.

How­ever, the Saints got back in the game with 10 con­sec­u­tive points in the sec­ond quar­ter to trail only 1410 at half­time.

Foles com­pleted eight of his first nine passes for 113 yards and led Philadel­phia to touch­downs on its first two pos­ses­sions. The first score was set up on the Saints’ first play, when Brees badly un­der­threw Ted Ginn Jr. on a deep route and LeBlanc in­ter­cepted the ball at the Philadel­phia 24.

Foles com­pleted all five passes for 65 yards on the en­su­ing 76-yard scor­ing drive, in­clud­ing a 37-yard strike to wide re­ceiver Jor­dan Matthews, who eas­ily beat dou­ble cov­er­age for the touch­down.

After New Or­leans went three­and-out, Foles di­rected a 10-play, 75yard touch­down march, set­ting up the score with a 30-yard back-shoul­der throw to Jef­fery on third-and-7 to the Saints’ 4. Foles got the 14-0 lead by stretch­ing the ball over the goal line from 1 yard out two plays later.

But the Saints fi­nally got rolling in the sec­ond quar­ter, when Brees com­pleted 13 of 16 passes for 171 yards a touch­down. Pay­ton suc­cess­fully gam­bled twice on fourth down on the touch­down drive – con­vert­ing a fourth-and-1 on a fake-punt run by Hill at the Saints’ 30 and then con­vert­ing the touch­down on fourth-and­goal from the 2 with Brees’ soft pass in the left cor­ner of the end zone to Kirk­wood.

Lutz brought the Saints within 1410 with a 45-yard field just be­fore in­ter­mis­sion. The drive started at the New Or­leans 6 with 78 sec­onds re­main­ing in the half.

Tri­bune News Ser­vice

New Or­leans de­fen­sive end Cameron Jor­dan stands over Ea­gles wide re­ceiver Al­shon Jef­fery after a pass that went off the hands of Jef­fery was in­ter­cepted by the Saints, stop­pong a late Philadel­phia drive.

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