Pa­tri­ots pound Charg­ers, Saints rally past Ea­gles in NFL play­offs

Tri-City Herald - - Front Page - BY BARRY WIL­NER

When the New Or­leans Saints fi­nally found their rhythm, they marched one step closer to the Su­per Bowl.

Us­ing a dom­i­nant ball­con­trol 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.

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 face-first 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 (14-3). Los An­ge­les, which fell 45-35 at the Su­per­dome in Novem­ber, will try again next week, 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 (10-8) 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.

“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 Al­lPro wide­out Michael Thomas, who had 12 re­cep­tions for a fran­chise play­off-record 171 yards.

Thomas’ touch­down capped an 18-play, 92yard drive in which the Saints ac­tu­ally cov­ered more than 100 yards be­cause of penal­ties. It lasted 11 1⁄ min­utes.

2

“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.”

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.

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.

Philly also lost DB Ra­sul Dou­glas in the sec­ond quar­ter to an an­kle in­jury, but he was back in the sec­ond half.

UP NEXT

The Saints host the Rams in the early game next Sun­day, with the win­ner go­ing to the Su­per Bowl.

BILL FEIG AP

New Or­leans Saints wide re­ceiver Michael Thomas pulls in a touch­down re­cep­tion against Philadel­phia Ea­gles cor­ner­back Cre'von LeBlanc in the sec­ond half Sun­day.

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