Brees orchestrates comeback as Saints end Eagles' run
The New Orleans Saints moved through to the NFC championship game after coming from behind to beat reigning Super Bowl champions the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14.
Things were a little different when the Eagles travelled to New Orleans for the second time this season, although the steaks were certainly higher on Sunday.
In the two team's previous meeting, Philadelphia were without quarterback Nick Foles — who has since replaced an injured Carson Wentz — and former Saints running back Darren Sproles, who was out with a hamstring injury.
But, the one thing that remained the same was New Orleans coming away with a victory as the top-ranked Saints earned a showdown with the Los Angeles Rams.
Here are three takeaways from New Orleans' come-from-behind win over Philadelphia:
Saints needed to be efficient on offense
New Orleans had a brief lapse in the first quarter before the offense's efforts turned into points. After Drew Brees' interception on the first play of the game and consecutive punts the next two times the Saints were on the field, the team were finally able to convert an Eagles turnover into a touchdown and set up a successful field-goal try before the half.
The Saints continued rolling, but it was not easy. The go-ahead drive, which was the longest drive of the team's season, not only ate up much of the clock but could have easily ended after multiple penalties forced the Saints further away from the end zone. But, the Saints did not back down especially against a tough defense.
Philadelphia entered with a strong defensive front that was gaining momentum towards the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. They were able to nearly double their disruptive pressure from 16.5 per cent of passing plays in their first 13 games to 28.4 percent in the last four and improved on their third-down conversion rate to boot.
The most disruptive play on Sunday came late in the game to set up Foles on Philadelphia's final offensive drive. Defensive end Michael Bennett immediately got into the backfield on a third-down play just outside the Eagles' 30-yard line. This forced a field goal that the Saints would miss.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, it would not have mattered anyway as an interception on the ensuing drive sealed New Orleans' victory.
Brees orchestrated another comeback
The Saints did not have much to prove as they entered the game as the number one seed with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Brees. New Orleans have also found success under duress earlier in the season. On two separate occasions — in October against the Baltimore Ravens and December against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the Saints have scored 17 fourth-quarter points for a comeback victory.
Despite the Eagles' early advantage and 14-10 half-time lead favouring the visitors, who were 12-0 all-time in playoff games in which they have held a 14-point advantage at any point, Brees and company made the necessary adjustments to put together two scoring drives that would put the team one win away from a Super Bowl appearance.
First, there was a touchdown pass caught by Michael Thomas, who proved why his nickname is "Can't guard Mike." The two-time Pro Bowl receiver finished with 171 yards on 12 receptions.
Next was a 39-yard field goal that was set up by a 36-yard run from Mark Ingram, who finished with 53 yards on nine carries.
Brees completed 28 of his 38 pass attempts for 301 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Foles ran out of magic
The backup turned starter has been impressive in his late showing this season. Foles won all three regular-season games as a starter in December and led the Eagles to an upset victory over the Chicago Bears in a wildcard clash.
Now, in the divisional round, he impressed early with two quick scores to become one of three quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era with at least one passing, receiving and rushing touchdown in their playoff careers. But, the Eagles could not sustain their scoring burst.
After opening with 14 points and 169 yards in the first quarter, Philadelphia were held scoreless through the rest of the game. The Saints ate up the clock with an 18-play, 11:29 second drive that ended in a touchdown to dethrone the defending Super Bowl champions. Things remained in New Orleans' favour for the rest of the game.
Philadelphia punted on all but one of their second-half drives and only managed to get two first downs. The final drive, which saw Foles just outside of the red zone, ended in an interception that slipped through the hands of Alshon Jeffery.
Foles finished 18-of-31 passing for 201 yards, one touchdown and one interception.