The second game of wildcard weekend featured the New Orleans Saints traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. I was thinking that since the Saints are a dome team and they had never won a playoff game on the road, they’d have some trouble in the cold city of Brotherly Love. That wasn’t the case as this game went down to the wire. The Saints started at their 27 and although they had some success on the ground with running backs Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles, they would be forced to punt on their first possession.
The Eagles took over at their 16 and about the only “highlight” of their first possession was a 15-yard completion from quarterback Nick Foles to tight end Zach Ertz. On third and six from the 38, Foles looked for running back LeSean McCoy and the pass fell incomplete. Punter Donnie Jones came on and the punt was downed at the New Orleans 14. Just like the Eagles, the Saints went nowhere and the punting continued until the seven minute mark of the first quarter. On first and ten from the Philadelphia 49, quarterback Drew Brees looked for wide receiver Kenny Stills and the pass was picked off by cornerback Bradley Fletcher at the 27-yard line.
Short passes to wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jason Avant got the Eagles going. On second and five from the 44, Foles completed a 24-yard pass to tight end Brent Celek for a first down at the New Orleans 32. A short completion and a six-yard run by McCoy set up a third and short from the 23. McCoy ran up the left side, but was stopped for no gain. Head coach Chip Kelly didn’t hesitate to go for it on fourth and less than a yard and McCoy ran off right tackle for eight yards and a first down at the 15. Foles completed another pass to Celek, but he was thrown for a loss of eight. To make matters worse, Foles was sacked for a loss of 11 on the very next play by defensive end Cameron Jordan. That put them in a third and 29 situation and they called a running play for McCoy for a modest gain of four yards. That set up a field goal attempt by Alex Henery and his kick never had a chance as it sailed wide left. The game remained scoreless with 14:22 to go in the second quarter.
The Saints took over at their 38 and continued having some success with their ground game. Running back Khiry Robinson carried the ball twice for nine yards and Brees ran up the middle for four more yards and a first down at the Philadelphia 49-yard line. Some more running by Ingram and a completion to Sproles got them a first down at the 23. On third and seven from the 20, Brees tossed a pass to tight end Jimmy Graham for a short gain. As he was trying to gain more yardage, linebacker DeMeco Ryans knocked the ball loose and the Eagles recovered it at the 20. But, after another long review from the zebras, it was ruled that Graham was down. When all was said and done, it was fourth and one from the 16. The Saints decided to go for it, but were flagged for a false start. That brought in kicker Shayne Graham for a 36-yard attempt. The kick was good and the Saints led 3-0 with 8:37 to go in the second quarter.
The Eagles got a grand total of seven yards on their next possession and punted the ball away. The Saints took over at their 32 and a ten-yard pass to wide receiver Marques Colston got them a first down at the 42. From the 42, Ingram ran up the right side for four yards and Brees scrambled for five more. Robinson netted another first down with a five-yard run off right tackle. But on second and seven from the Philadelphia 41, Ryans picked off Brees at the 33 and returned it to the New Orleans 44-yard line.
On first down, Foles hooked up with Cooper for a gain of 22 and then found Ertz for a short gain of four yards. McCoy ran up the left side for seven yards and the Eagles had a first down at the 11. Two plays later, Foles threw to his left and the pass was caught by Cooper for a touchdown. Henery made the point after and the Eagles led 7-3 with 1:48 to go in the first half.
The Saints started from their 25 and a 13-yard run and a 17-yard completion to Graham quickly got them a first down at the 45. From the 45, Brees was sacked for a loss of one, but the Eagles were flagged for defensive holding on the next play. That gave them a first down at the 41. Brees found Stills for a gain of 13 on the next play, but the 28 was as far as they would get. Graham was brought into the game again and his 46-yard field goal was good. At halftime, the Eagles led 7-6.
The Eagles got the ball to start the second half and they went absolutely nowhere. Jones punted and Sproles fielded it at the New Orleans 35. He returned it to the 47 and the Saints started out with good field position. Two short runs by Ingram and a seven-yard pass to wide receiver Lance Moore made it first down at the Philadelphia 40. Ingram got loose for 18 yards on the next play, but the Saints were flagged for holding and that moved them back ten yards. On second and 12 from the 24, Brees threw to his right and Moore caught the pass for a touchdown. Graham made the point after and the Saints grabbed a 13-7 lead with ten minutes to go in the third quarter.
Again the Eagles went nowhere and after three plays they were forced to punt again. Sproles fielded it at the New Orleans 29 and returned it five yards to the 34. Ingram gained eight yards on two carries and that set up a third and two from the 42. Brees found Colston for eight yards, but that was negated by a holding penalty. That moved them back ten yards and didn’t really do much damage to their drive because on third and 12, Brees completed a 14-yard pass to Stills for a first down at the 46. Brees then found tight end Ben Watson for 27 more yards and the Saints were putting together a solid drive. Ingram ran up the left side for ten and Sproles caught a pass for nine yards on the next play. On second and one from the eight, Ingram ran up the middle for a gain of four to make it first and goal from the four-yard line. Ingram got the call again and found the end zone for another touchdown. Graham made the point after and the Saints led 20-7 with four minutes to go in the third quarter.
Return man Brad Smith returned the kickoff to the 35 and Foles knew he had to get his offense moving. McCoy ran up the left side for 11 and a neutral-zone infraction on the Saints got them five more yards. During the game, cornerback Keenan Lewis had been doing a fantastic job of shutting down wide receiver DeSean Jackson. But he left the game with concussion symptoms and did not return. With Lewis out, Foles hooked up with Jackson for a gain of 40 and a first and goal from the nine-yard line. A short pass to Jackson and three straight runs by McCoy got the Eagles into the end zone. Henery made the point after and the Saints now led 20-14 with 32 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Eagle defense knew what they had to do and they rose to the occasion and forced the Saints to punt. Punter Thomas Morstead got off a 47-yard punt that was fielded by Jackson at the Philadelphia 31 and returned 29 yards to the New Orleans 40. Out came the no huddle offense and down the field the Eagles went. A short run by McCoy and two completions to Cooper moved them down to the 16. An incomplete pass and nine yards on two carries by McCoy set up a fourth and one from the seven. But a killer false start penalty moved them back to the 12. From there, Henery made his 30-yard field goal attempt and the Saints were now leading 20-17 with 11:14 to go in the game.
The Saints started out on the ground again and two carries from Sproles and Ingram moved them from their 25 to their 37-yard line. From there, Brees threw a dart down the middle for 40 yards to wide receiver Robert Meachem for a first down at the Philadelphia 23. The drive went as far as the 17 and it was time again for another field goal attempt for Graham. His 35-yard attempt was good and the Saints went up 23-17 with eight minutes to go in the game.
The Eagles took over at their 23 and two carries by McCoy gained 13 yards. On first down from the 36, Foles looked for Jackson, but the pass fell incomplete. Every time a pass went to Jackson, there was a shot of the Saints’ bench and there was Lewis pacing up and down the sideline lobbying for his chance to get back into the game. I could read his lips as he shouted “I’m fine! I’m fine!” Despite all his lobbying, he never made it back into the game. I’m guessing they hid his helmet somewhere too. On second down, Foles connected with Jackson for a gain of ten and a first down at the 46. An-eight yard pass to Cooper and a three-yard run by McCoy netted another first down at the New Orleans 43. Next, Foles went deep to Jackson again and the pass was incomplete. But the Saints were flagged for pass interference and that set up a first and goal at the three. Sure enough, there was another shot of Lewis on the sideline and he looked like he was about to either cry or slap someone. Two plays later, Foles found Ertz for a three-yard touchdown. Henery made the point after and the Eagles led 24-23 with 4:54 to go in the game.
All the Eagles needed was one stop. Just one stop and they would be off to Charlotte to take on the Panthers. But the Saints got a huge break on the kickoff. Sproles ran it out from two yards deep and headed up the right side. He was brought down at the 37 by cornerback Cary Williams who was flagged for a horse collar tackle. That put the Saints at the Philadelphia 48. On second and 11, Robinson ran up the middle for a gain of 13 and a first down at the 36. A short run by Ingram, a six-yard pass to Colston and a scramble by Brees got them a first down at the 24. More runs by Brees and Robinson moved them down to the 14 and with three seconds remaining, Graham came on for the winning 32-yard kick. The Philadelphia faithful rose to their feet and did their best to distract Graham. But all that cheering didn’t do a damn bit of good as the ball sailed through the uprights to give the Saints a 26-24 win.
For the Saints, Drew Brees completed 20 of 30 for 250 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Brees spread the ball around to nine different receivers and Darren Sproles had the most receptions with four and Jimmy Graham had the most receiving yards with 44. On the ground, Mark Ingram ran for 97 tough yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. As a team, the Saints rushed for 185 yards on 36 carries. Defensively, linebacker David Hawthorne led the Saints in solo tackles with six.
For the Eagles, Nick Foles completed 23 of 33 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Riley Cooper led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 68 and a touchdown. It wasn’t a good night for LeSean McCoy. His longest run was for just 11 yards and he finished the game with 77 yards on 21 carries. The only other carry was for three yards by Foles. 80 total yards rushing isn’t going to get it done. Defensively, DeMeco Ryans led the team in solo tackles with eight.
This was the first ever road playoff win for the Saints and their defense really played a great game. They’ll need to have a similar performance as they hit the road again to play at Seattle next week. That game will be played on Saturday at 4:35 eastern time. The Saints and Seahawks met earlier in the year on a Monday night in December and the Seahawks came away with a 34-7 win. The Seahawks will be well rested and looking for a repeat performance.