Saints overcome poor start, battle past Eagles to reach NFC title game

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NEW ORLEANS – This one did not go as planned.

It bore little or no resemblance to the 48-7 victory by the Saints over the Eagles on Nov. 18.

Always known for its offense under Sean Payton and Drew Brees, New Orleans pulled through in huge fashion thanks to a much-needed performance from the defense.

After the first two possessions of the game which resulted in touchdowns for Philadelphia, if I would have told you that would be the case, you would have laughed at me.

The next eight Philadelphia possessions ended with no points and two interceptions by Marshon Lattimore.

It was a nail-biter.

Realistically, you almost expected it. The Eagles are a proud team and they were the defending Super Bowl champion.

After Philadelphia dominated the first quarter, the Saints took over and dominated the rest of the game before holding on for the win.

Nick Foles had won his last four playoff games while Payton and Brees were 5-0 in the playoffs at home. Something had to give. It did. It was Foles, after a great start, who then sputtered. Make it 6-0 at home for Payton and Brees.

Here are my Quick Takes from the 20-14 victory for the Saints over the Eagles:

**Philadelphia won the toss and deferred, giving the Saints the ball first.

**On the first play from scrimmage, Brees opted to go deep for Ted Ginn, who had a step on Cre’Von LeBlanc. The pass was slightly underthrown and LeBlanc picked it off. LeBlanc was waived by the Lions in September, passed through waivers and the Eagles picked him up.

**The Eagles took total advantage, driving 76 yards in seven plays, taking 4:05 off the clock with Foles hitting Jordan Matthews on a 37-yard touchdown pass to give Philadelphia a 7-0 lead with 10:41 to play in the opening quarter. On the touchdown, Foles had pressure, remained calm and threw a strike to Matthews. P.J. Williams looked to have coverage but slowed down and Marcus Williams did not get there in time.

**Sheldon Rankins went down with what appeared to be a serious left leg injury with 7:04 to play in the opening quarter. He was carted off the field. Later, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reported that Rankins tore his Achilles tendon.

**Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks went down with what appeared to be a serious leg injury on the next series with 6:05 to play in the opening quarter. He was carted off.

**Foles then hit Alshon Jeffery on a perfect back shoulder throw for 30 yards to the New Orleans four-yard line. Two plays later, Foles leaped over the top for a one-yard touchdown and it was 14-0 Philadelphia with 4:37 to play in the first quarter. The drive covered 75 yards in 10 plays, taking 5:14 off the clock.

**Philadelphia finished with 153 yards to just 17 for the Saints in the opening quarter.

**Lattimore then came up with his first huge play, picking off a deep ball attempt to Zach Ertz. Lattimore saw it well, timed his jump perfectly and made a great play. The pass was underthrown by Foles, which helped.

**Still, the offense could not do anything with it, going three-and-out. Then, Payton called for a fake punt. Taysom Hill took the short snap and bulled his way four yards for a first down on a fourth-and-one play from the 30-yard line.

**Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox went down injured on the fake punt but was able to walk off the field. It was a foot injury. He was able to return but then left the game again in the second half.

**Starting corner Rasual Douglas was carted off the field early in the second quarter with an ankle injury.

**Brees then hit Michael Thomas for 42 yards to the Philadelphia 24-yard line.

**Then, starting defensive end Michael Bennett went down for the Eagles. He was able to return.

**New Orleans got to the eight-yard line, Andrus Peat got a false start penalty and the Saints faced a fourth-and-goal situation from the two-yard line. Peat had a very forgettable game with four penalties.

**Payton opted to go for it and Brees hit Keith Kirkwood on a two-yard touchdown pass to pull the Saints within 14-7 with 7:23 to play in the half. Kirkwood beat Josh Hawkins, who is basically a third-string corner, on the play. Hawkins replaced Douglas. The drive covered 79 yards in 12 plays, taking 6:12 off the clock. The fake punt conversion by Taysom Hill was huge.

**Douglas was able to return to start the second half.

**New Orleans drove 67 yards in seven plays, taking 1:12 off the clock with Wil Lutz nailing a 45-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10 with six seconds left in the half. The big plays to set up the score were completions by Brees of 21 yards to Ginn, Jr. and 23 yards to Kamara.

**Then, the Saints had two big misses.

**First, Brees missed a wide open Taysom Hill deep for what would have been a touchdown. The pass was woefully short and was broken up.

**On the next play, Taysom Hill hit Kamara with a perfect throw for what would have been a 46-yard touchdown but a hold on Peat, his third penalty of the game, negated the score.

**Then, the Saints overcame a poor holding call on Max Unger and yet another penalty on Peat for a false start, his fourth of the game. Brees hit Thomas for 20 yards, Kamara ran 15 yards to the two-yard line and Brees hit Thomas with a two-yard touchdown pass to make it 17-14 Saints with 1:40 to play in the third quarter.

**The drive had to be the longest drive, in terms of time, of the NFL season. It took 11:29 as the Saints overcame three penalties in going 92 yards in 18 plays. According to ESPN Stats Info, it was the longest drive in any postseason game in the last 20 years and the longest of any Saints game in at least 20 years.

**New Orleans got a stop and then drove 62 yards in eight plays, taking 3:31 off the clock with Lutz kicking a 39-yard field goal to give the Saints a 20-14 lead with 10;28 to play in the game. The big play was a 36-yard run by Mark Ingram, which set up the field goal.

**The Saints could have put the game away, driving to the Philadelphia 31-yard line. On a third-and-eight, the Saints called timeout. Then, they let the play clock run down too far and had to rush the next play and Ingram lost three yards. It was surprising, to say the least.

**Lutz then missed a 52-yard field goal, giving the Eagles the ball at their own 42-yard line with 2:59 to play.

**Then, Lattimore came up with the game-clinching play on a pass from Foles intended for Jeffery. It was tipped, hung in the air and Lattimore came up with the huge play with his second interception of the game.

**Still, the Saints had to make a first down or they would have to give it back to Philadelphia. On third down and 11, Kamara rushed straight up the middle for 12 yards and a first down to put the game away.

**After a bad start, Brees came on strong, finishing 28 of 38 for 301 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. After a fast start, Foles fizzled, finishing 18 of 31 for 201 yards and a touchdown with the two costly interceptions.

**Thomas was terrific with 12 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown. New Orleans rushed for 137 yards. New Orleans amassed 420 yards and gave up 250 yards, only 99 after the first two Philadelphia drives of the game.

**The Saints overcame bad field position throughout the game. Other than their first and last possessions that started at their own 35 and 33, New Orleans drives had an average starting field position of their own 16-yard line. Hard to win that way but the Saints found a way.

It was hard-fought and the Saints made enough mistakes to lose but found a way to win. It will take a much better effort to beat a better team in the Los Angeles Rams next week.

After the game, Payton gave the game ball to Gayle Benson.

Now comes a rematch with the high-powered, highly motivated Rams. It is how it should be. They were the two best teams in the conference, if not the NFL, all season long.

While the Rams have the extra day, having won Saturday night, they will have to make the long flight here and play in a very hostile building. It is as it should be.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…

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