The New Orleans Saints braved the cold weather and the road, which has been unkind to them this season, and beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card round game, 26-24.
Kicker Shayne Graham, who was signed late in the season to replace a struggling Garrett Hartley, came on to kick the game-winning field goal from 32 yards out. It was the first true road playoff win in the history of the Saints' franchise, not counting their neutral-field Super Bowl victory, and it was their first away from home since prior to Thanksgiving.
The Saints took control in the third quarter and won this game in the trenches, outplaying the Eagles on both sides of the line. Next week: A date against the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks, a team that beat them 34-7 there in Week 13.
Both the Saints' and Eagles' offenses struggled mightily out of the chute with temperatures hovering in the low 20s. After four straight punts to start the game, Brees was picked off but the Eagles missed the field goal after a bad Foles sack in which he held onto the ball too long.
On the Saints’ next possession, their run game warmed up, and Jimmy Graham fumbled trying to stretch out for a first down in Eagles territory, but the call was reversed. However, there was a false start on fourth and short — the second time in the game the Saints had a fourth-down short-circuited by a penalty — and the Eagles settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Eagles had trouble getting a rhythm offensively, and they couldn’t get LeSean McCoy going. He had only 42 yards from scrimmage in the first half on 12 touches, with none gaining more than eight yards.
But the defense rallied them. Brees threw a horrible interception when he underthrew Lance Moore badly, and DeMeco Ryans stepped in front of it for the gift pick.
The Eagles took advantage when a patient Foles — something that hurt him earlier in the game — found an open Riley Cooper in the end zone for the game’s first touchdown right after the two-minute warning before halftime.
The Saints responded with a quick-strike drive into Philly territory but a Brees sack forced them to go for a 46-yard field goal, which newcomer Shayne Graham made to cut the halftime lead to 7-6. In six first-half possessions, the Saints crossed midfield five times but had only six points to show for it at the break.
But after the half, Brees got going. He led a six-play, 53-yard touchdown drive on the Saints’ first possession of the second half, hitting Moore for a 24-yard score.
The Eagles might have had something big on the following drive, but Cooper — after a timeout — dropped a wide-open third-down catch with room to make a huge play. Instead, the Eagles punted it back to the Saints, who drove 66 yards and took a 20-7 lead on Mark Ingram's 4-yard touchdown run. It was a banner night for Ingram (97 yards rushing, 17 receiving), as well as the other Saints rushers in a game the Eagles clearly tried to take away the Saints' passing game.
The score was a dagger, but the Eagles were not dead. Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis knocked himself out of the game on a hit against Jason Avant on the following series, and the Eagles went to DeSean Jackson — whom Lewis had blanked to that point — for back-to-back catches, for 43 yards including a 40-yard catch off a broken play in which Jackson outmuscled Saints safety Roman Harper for the ball. The Eagles scored on a McCoy 1-yard plunge four plays later to cut the lead to 20-14, Saints.
After the Saints couldn’t move on their next drive, Jackson then got into the fun again with a 29-yard punt return to set the Eagles up at the Saints’ 40-yard line. The Eagles continued picking on Lewis’ replacement, Rod Sweeting, and moved down the field for an Alex Henery field goal that made it 20-17 with 11:17 left. Prior to the field goal, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly chose not to go for it on 4th down and a long yard to go from the Saints’ 7-yard line.
The Saints came back with a big drive of their own, highlighted by a 40-yard pass from Brees to Robert Meachem, but they had to settle for a field goal to bump the lead back to six points at 23-17.
Foles and the Eagles got the ball back with just over eight minutes left, and Jackson converted a huge first down on a catch and 10-yard run to the sticks. Jackson then beat Saints defensive back Corey White down the right sideline, and White was called with a 40-yard pass-interference call down to the Saints’ 3-yard line. The Eagles took a 24-23 lead on a Foles touchdown pass to Zach Ertz with 4:58 left.
The Saints’ Darren Sproles flipped the field with a long kick return and horse-collar penalty that started their possession at the Eagles’ 48. More hard running from the Saints’ running backs, especially from Khiry Robinson, and a Brees sneak on third and short to help move the chains and milk the clock.
That set up Graham's game-winner, which set up the Saints going back on the road to face the Seahawks next week in the divisional round of the playoffs.
- - - - - - -