The New Orleans Saints needed a quarter to warm to the occasion of their NFC Divisional playoff game Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Once they did, they had enough to overcome the Eagles and to advance to the NFC championship game, which the No. 1-seeded Saints (14-3) will host in the Superdome, against the Rams on Sunday, Jan. 20
The Saints spotted Philadelphia 14 points and 153 yards in the first quarter, then shut down the Eagles for seven consecutive possessions to close out the game. And after being shut out and producing 21 yards in the first quarter, New Orleans totaled 20 points and 399 yards in the final three.
It wasn't spotless, but it had some areas where the Saints were as good as they have been at any point this season, and allowed them to advance to the NFL's final four.
OFFENSE: Forget the overall brilliance of quarterback Drew Brees (28 of 38 for 301 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception) and receiver Michael Thomas (12 catches for a franchise playoff-record 171 yards and a touchdown) for a second. Instead, focus on one of the best drives in NFL playoff history: 18 plays, 92 yards, lasting 11:29 and producing the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. The Saints converted third-and-3 (9-yard pass from Brees to Josh Hill), second-and-20 (20-yard pass from Brees to Thomas) and third-and-16 (20-yard pass from Brees to Thomas) en route to the 2-yard scoring toss from Brees to Thomas. Along the way, New Orleans overcame two holding penalties and a false start. It was a crushing, game-winning type of drive that didn't totally break the Eagles, but gave the Saints all the confidence that they could finish the job.
DEFENSE: The Saints have had some sterling defensive performances this season. Sunday's game will take its place atop the heap, due to the stakes. When the Saints' offense couldn't get going, the defense found its footing after a rough first quarter and allowed 97 yards, and no points, in the final 45 minutes. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles completed eight of nine passes for 113 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter; over the final three, he completed 10 of 22 for 88 yards and two interceptions, both by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Add in the fact that New Orleans was its usual stingy self against the run – Philly had 49 yards on 16 carries – and the Saints played three quarters of the cleanest defense they're capable of playing. It was a 45-minute masterpiece.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Taysom Hill run from punt formation was critical. The Saints needed a spark offensively, and his 4-yard run – on fourth-and-1 from the Saints' 30, with 11:51 left in the second quarter – caught the Eagles off guard. Because who fakes a punt from their own 30, with that much time left in the first half? It was a calculated, good gamble that helped the Saints drive for their first touchdown. Wil Lutz made two field goals and missed one, but if he had to miss, he picked the perfect day – when the defense was in the midst of making seven straight stops to finish out the game. Thomas Morstead was his usual, effective self while punting.
Check out the divisional round game action between the Saints and Eagles at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 13, 2019.