Champs out: Philadel­phia Ea­gles fall to New Or­leans Saints in NFL play­offs

Ea­gles build early 14- 0 lead, but Saints come back to win

The Republican Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BY BARRY WIL­NER

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 on Sun­day.

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.

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

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, with the win­ner go­ing to the Su­per Bowl. The Saints’ win fin­ished 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.

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

This was two games in one. Philly scored on its first two drives as the Saints could do lit­tle 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 re­silient Ea­gles kept it close enough that when Lutz missed a 52- yard field goal with 2: 58 re­main­ing, they were only one- score 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.

“That’s a great cham­pi­onship team,” Saints 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’ touch down capped an 18- play, 92- yard drive in which the Saints ac­tu­ally cov­ered more than 100 yards be­cause of penal­ties. It lasted 11 ½ 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 never scored.

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 picked off by Cre’Von LeBlanc, one of sev­eral Ea­gles back­ups be­ing used in the sec­ondary due to in­juries dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son.

“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.”

After the first quar­ter, though, a lot worked for New Or­leans.

Foles com­pleted all five throws on a 76- yard drive capped by Jor­dan Matthews’ 37- yard TD catch. The Ea­gles, who quickly fell be­hind 17- 0 in that pre­vi­ous Su­per­dome loss, sud­denly led 7- 0.

Not long after, a 75- yard drive high­lighted by a 30- yard pass to Jef­fery ended with Foles’ short leap over the goal line for a 14- 0 edge.

In­deed, the vis­i­tors were in con­trol 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 fourth- and- goal from the 2, and Philadel­phia’s rapidly de­plet­ing de­fense 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.

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.

NUM­BERS

Brees, who turns 40 Tues­day, fin­ished 28- for- 38 de­spite the aw­ful start, throw­ing for 301 yards. Aside from Thomas, who was tar­geted 16 times — he led the NFL with 125 catches — no one caught more than four passes for New Or­leans. Alvin Ka­mara had four for 35 yards and also rushed for 71 yards. Mark In­gram added 53 yards on the ground as the Saints out­rushed the Ea­gles 137- 49. New Or­leans is 6- 0 at home in the play­offs with Pay­ton and Brees.

Foles was 18- for- 31 for 201 yards. Jef­fery had five catch- es for a team- lead­ing 63 yards be­fore the game- seal­ing drop.

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.

Sev­eral Saints play­ers said they would be play­ing for Rank­ins the rest of the way be­cause his sea­son was done.

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.

As­so­ci­ated press

Philadel­phia Ea­gles wide re­ceiver Al­shon Jef­fery ( 17) lies on the turf in front of New Or­leans Saints de­fen­sive end Cameron Jor­dan ( 94) after the Saints in­ter­cepted a pass that went through Jef­fery’s hands late in the fourth quar­ter of Sun­day’s di­vi­sional play­off game in New Or­leans. Ral­ly­ing from an early 14- 0 deficit, the Saints won 20- 14 to ad­vance to the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Philadel­phia Ea­gles quar­ter­back Nick Foles ( 9) leaps into the end zone for touch­down dur­ing the first half of Sun­day’s di­vi­sional play­off game against the New Or­leans Saints. The Ea­gles lost 20- 14.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Philadel­phia Ea­gles strong safety Mal­colm Jenk­ins ( 27) sacks New Or­leans Saints quar­ter­back Drew Brees ( 9) dur­ing the first half of Sun­day’s play­off game.

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