Saints rally past Ea­gles, get set to host Rams

The Commercial Appeal - - Sports - Barry Wil­ner AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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 face-first to the turf in agony.

New Or­leans (14-3) will host the NFC ti­tle game next week against the Rams (13-4). Los An­ge­les, which fell 45-35 at the Su­per­dome in Novem­ber, will try again next week, with the win­ner go­ing to the Su­per Bowl. The Saints’ win fin­ished off a sweep of the di­vi­sional round by teams com­ing off byes.

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

Philadel­phia (10-8) will not re­peat as NFL cham­pion; no team has done so since the 2004 Pa­tri­ots.

This was re­ally two games in one. Philly scored on its first two drives as the Saints could do vir­tu­ally noth­ing right. After that, it was all New Or­leans, but the re­silient Ea­gles kept it close enough that when Lutz missed a 52-yard field goal with 2:58 re­main­ing, they were only onescore be­hind.

Foles, the hero of last year’s Su­per Bowl run, got them in po­si­tion for yet an­other late win­ning score – just like last week at Chicago and last Fe­bru­ary against New Eng­land for the cham­pi­onship.

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

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

UGLY START: Maybe the Saints were rusty after their wild-card bye, but they got two first downs, in­clud­ing one by penalty, gained 17 yards, and Brees threw an in­ter­cep­tion and had a fum­ble that was re­cov­ered by team­mate Ryan Ram­czyk in the open­ing pe­riod. Mean­while, Philly gained 153 yards and scored two TDS, and Foles went 8 of 9 for 113.

But Foles was in­ter­cepted by Lat­ti­more early in the sec­ond quar­ter, and the Saints fi­nally got go­ing.

IN­JURIES: In a span of three plays, two starters were hurt and needed to be carted off.

First, Saints de­fen­sive tackle Shel­don Rank­ins went down mid­way in the first quar­ter, un­able to put any weight on his left foot. Two plays later, Ea­gles right guard Bran­don Brooks hurt his right leg and de­parted.

Philly also lost DB Ra­sul Dou­glas in the sec­ond quar­ter to an an­kle in­jury, but he was back in the sec­ond half. DLS Fletcher Cox, an All-pro, and Michael Ben­nett also were side­lined at times be­fore re­turn­ing. In the fourth quar­ter, left tackle Ja­son Peters left.

Saints run­ning back Alvin Ka­mara is forced out of bounds by Ea­gles free safety Avonte Mad­dox on Sun­day. DER­ICK E. HINGLE/USA TO­DAY

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