OUT OF MAGIC

Saints dash hopes of Ea­gles de­fend­ing their ti­tle

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Daniel Pa­trick Shee­han

Nick Foles, in­dis­putably, has magic. But the Saints are from New Or­leans, so they have voodoo. And they stuck all the pins in Foles and the Philadel­phia Ea­gles on Sun­day.

No goal post would save the Birds this week. It seemed, near the end, that a field goal might once again play into the Ea­gles’ for­tune, when Saints’ kicker Wil Lutz missed wide right on a 52-yard at­tempt that most likely would have iced the game. Surely, the same in­vis­i­ble hand that turned Bears’ kicker Cody Parkey’s would-be game win­ner into that un­for­get­table dou­ble doink last week had reached down from heaven again.

No. A lit­tle more than a minute later, Foles threw a pass to re­ceiver Al­shon Jef­fery that went through his hands and was in­ter­cepted by the Saints’ Marshon Lat­ti­more. The sea­son that once was lost, and then was found, was lost again. The phrase “de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons” was drained of mean­ing, just like that, and the Birds’ first-ever Su­per Bowl vic­tory turned from warm mem­ory into mu­seum piece.

All be­cause of the Saints. This was the team the Ea­gles fum­bled and sput­tered against in a 48-7 loss in Novem­ber, a blowout that seemed to sug­gest last year’s cham­pi­onship may have merely been a di­vine sop to quiet the “poor us” moan­ing of long­suf­fer­ing Philly fan­dom for a time.

The Birds, af­ter all, had dug a hole too deep to crawl out of, in that dreary grave­yard where first-to-worst teams are buried and for­got­ten. Ex­cept they did crawl out. And, it seemed, fate de­cided to use the same play­book as last year — down goes Wentz, in comes Foles, up comes the sun.

Fate is cruel more of­ten than it is kind. When Saints’ quar­ter­back Drew Brees threw an in­ter­cep­tion on his first pass, when the Ea­gles found the end zone on their first

two pos­ses­sions, when the New Or­leans faith­ful looked a lit­tle wide-eyed and con­fused — well, that’s when the pins and the Ea­gles dolls came out.

Fans can feel mo­men­tum shift­ing, as surely as they can feel high winds shak­ing the house. In the sec­ond quar­ter, Saints coach Sean Pay­ton or­dered a fake punt from the team’s own 30-yard line. The gam­ble worked. The house shook. And even though the Ea­gles went into the half up 14-10, it didn’t re­ally feel like a lead. The Saints, it was clear, had scrubbed away the rust of their long lay­off.

The third quar­ter came along. Never mind the third quar­ter. New Or­leans ate up 11:29 of it on an 18-play drive. They should have been called for ball-hog­ging.

The Birds were swoon­ing. Their strat­egy, for a time, seemed to con­sist of hav­ing poor Wendell Small­wood run again and again into a dense thicket of Saints. It never worked. The de­fense grew weary and its key­stone, Fletcher Cox, was hob­bled by a foot in­jury.

Back in Penn­syl­va­nia, in Chickie’s and Pete’s and Dave and Buster’s and Buf­falo Wild Wings and your house and my house, jaws clenched and prayers rose to St. Chuck and St. Reg­gie.

Noth­ing worked. The Saints kept con­vert­ing on third down and the Su­per­dome kept get­ting louder and louder. Crowd noise isn’t sup­posed to trou­ble Foles — one of the talk­ing heads, Jimmy or Terry or Howie, said so just be­fore the game — but it couldn’t have helped. You could have heard that ruckus even if it weren’t on tele­vi­sion.

The Saints. They used to be called the ’Aints un­til Drew Brees came along. He is about to turn 40 and his arm and eyes seem as strong and pre­cise as ever, a full 10 years af­ter lead­ing the fran­chise to its first Su­per Bowl ti­tle.

Boy, do we hate him. Be­fore the game, we might have had a warm feel­ing to­ward him be­cause he and Foles are grad­u­ates of the same Texas high school, and that made for a nice time­fill­ing fea­ture in the end­less run-up to the game. Now he’s just a vil­lain.

At the mo­ment, that is. By next week, we’ll want Brees and his Saints to win the whole thing, so we know the Birds — no longer for­tune’s fa­vorites — lost to the very best.

BUTCH DILL/AP

Ea­gles wide re­ceiver Al­shon Jef­fery (17) lies on the turf in front of Saints de­fen­sive end Cameron Jor­dan (94) af­ter the Saints in­ter­cepted a pass that went through Jef­fery’s hands in the clos­ing min­utes of Sun­day’s NFC di­vi­sional play­off game in New Or­leans.

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