New Or­leans ral­lies from 14-point deficit

The Washington Post - - SPORTS - BY MARK MASKE

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.”

JOHN DAVID MERCER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Nick Foles, left, threw for 201 yards and a TD, while Drew Brees threw for 301 yards and two scores.

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