New Orleans rallies from 14-point deficit
new orleans — It was a roundabout route taken by the New Orleans Saints. But they finally managed to achieve the expected result.
They fell behind by two touchdowns to Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles in the early going Sunday in an NFC divisional playoff game at the raucous Superdome. But they rallied behind the daring of Coach Sean Payton and the passing of quarterback Drew Brees to beat the Eagles, 20-14, and advance to the NFC championship game.
“Obviously we didn’t start this game the way we wanted to,” Brees said. “They jumped out to a 14-point lead. But, listen, we were calm, and we were poised. We knew that we were going to
get things going. But obviously we had to do that quickly.”
The top-seeded Saints will host the second-seeded Los Angeles Rams next Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake. It’s a rematch of a regular season game won by the Saints. The Saints were rusty at the outset Sunday but became the fourth home team coming off a firstround playoff bye to prevail in four tries this weekend.
“In our league, there’s going to be games where you fall behind,” Payton said. “We’ve played in a handful of those already.”
They played in one Sunday with plenty on the line against the defending Super Bowl champions. The Saints had rested Brees in Week 17 and then had the opening round of the playoffs off thanks to their No. 1 seed and their bye. They were not at their best early in Sunday’s game.
They trailed 14- 0 in the second quarter when Payton ordered a fake punt on fourth and one from his 30-yard line. It was reminiscent of the successful onside kick that he dialed up to start the second half when the Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts, quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, in the Super Bowl to conclude the 2009 season.
This time, Taysom Hill ran for four yards and a first down. The Saints concluded that drive with a touchdown pass by Brees to wideout Keith Kirkwood on a fourth-and-goal play from the 2-yard line, and they cut their deficit to 14-10 by halftime.
“I trust Taysom a lot,” Payton said. “He’s a powerful runner. . . . I know it was early in the game. And yet . . . we needed to shift momentum. And we were able to, fortunately, and take advantage of it.”
Brees called the fake punt “huge,” and added: “It was a calculated risk. It’s not like we’re just flying by the seat of our pants out there. These are things we’ve talked about. These are conversations we’ve had for critical situations. ... If you don’t have a play you like, you don’t go for it.”
Brees’s third-quarter touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Thomas gave the Saints their first lead, and kicker Wil Lutz upped the advantage to 20-14 with a fourth-quarter field goal.
Lutz missed from 52 yards with 2:58 remaining to give the Eagles a final chance. But Foles threw an interception to Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore with 1:52 to play after the ball went through wide receiver Alshon Jeffery’s hands on a play that began at the New Orleans 27. It was Lattimore’s second interception of the day, and it enabled the Saints to run out the clock with one first down.
“We took their best punch,” Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “Honestly they came out swinging in that first quarter.”
Brees finished with 301 passing yards, and Thomas had 12 catches for 171 yards.
The Saints ended the unlikely postseason run of Foles and the Eagles. Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win last season and, filling in at quarterback for injured starter Carson Wentz again, got them into this season’s playoffs with three straight victories to close the regular season, followed by a firstround victory last weekend at Chicago.
But now he and the Eagles head into an offseason in which Foles could become a free agent, with his contract containing a $20 million mutual option for next season.
“Your emotions, you’re figuring them out right now,” Foles said.
Foles threw for 201 yards on 18-for-31 passing in what may have been his final game with Philadelphia. He had a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordan Matthews on the Eagles’ opening drive, followed by a touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak on Philadelphia’s second possession.
But the Eagles were shut out from there, and the Saints gradually took control. The Brees-toThomas touchdown that gave New Orleans its first lead capped a monstrous 18-play, 92-yard drive that took nearly 111/ minutes
2 off the clock. The Saints persevered after having an apparent touchdown earlier on the long march negated by a holding penalty.
The Eagles played far better after losing to the Saints by 41 points in the Superdome during the regular season. But Foles’s magic finally ran out.
“It’s tough because it’s so final,” Eagles Coach Doug Pederson said. “It’s the end of the season. . . . We keep talking about having no regrets and leaving everything on the field. They did that tonight.”
Nick Foles, left, threw for 201 yards and a TD, while Drew Brees threw for 301 yards and two scores.