Saints rally past pre­vi­ous Su­per Bowl champ Ea­gles to host NFC ti­tle game

The Sentinel-Record - - SPORTS - 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 (14-3) got two touch­down passes from Drew Brees and two in­ter­cep­tions from Mar­cus Lat­ti­more in a

20-14 vic­tory over the Philadel­phia Ea­gles (10-8). 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-yard line de­flected off usu­ally sure-handed re­ceiver Al­shon Jef­fery with about two min­utes re­main­ing in the game. 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 will host the NFC ti­tle game on Sun­day against the Rams (13-4). Los An­ge­les, which fell 45-35 at the Su­per­dome in Novem­ber, will try again Sun­day, 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 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 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.

Brees had two-yard touch­down passes to rookie Keith Kirk­wood and All-Pro wide­out Michael Thomas, who had 12 re­cep­tions for

171 yards.

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.

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 de­fen­sive back Ra­sul Dou­glas in the sec­ond quar­ter to an an­kle in­jury, but he was back in the sec­ond half. De­fen­sive linemen Fletcher Cox, an All-Pro, and Michael Ben­nett also were side­lined at times be­fore re­turn­ing. In the fourth quar­ter, left tackle Ja­son Peters left the game.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

NO RE­PEAT: Philadel­phia Ea­gles re­ceiver Al­shon Jef­fery (17) lies on the turf at the Su­per­dome in New Or­leans on Sun­day in front of de­fen­sive end Cameron Jor­dan (94) after his dropped pass was in­ter­cepted, al­low­ing the Saints close out a 20-14 win in the di­vi­sional round of the NFL play­offs.

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