Determined New Orleans Saints pull out grittiest win since Super Bowl run
January 5, 2014
By Jeff Duncan, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Philadelphia — Here’s all you need to know about the odds the New Orleans Saints’ defied Saturday night.
In playoff games when the weather was 35 degrees or below, dome teams like the Saints had won three of 25 games in NFL history. Three wins. That’s not a misprint. And it had been a decade since anyone had done it.
Thanks to the Saints’ gritty 26-24 last-second wild-card playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, the winning percentage for dome teams in such conditions skyrocketed from 12 percent to 15 percent.
The Saints’ thumbed their noses at history, the percentages and the Eagles’ renowned home-field advantage at frigid Lincoln Financial Field. They ignored the odds and the thermometer to record the club’s biggest victory since Super Bowl XLIV.
In fact, you could make a strong case that this was the best win other than the Super Bowl and NFC championship game in the Saints’ 47-year existence. It certainly was the most improbable — and perhaps the grittiest.
“We knew we were capable of winning a game like this,” receiver Marques Colston said.
Everything seemingly was stacked against them in this one. The Saints had not won a road playoff game in five previous tries, including three attempts in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era. They came into the game having lost five of their past six games outside of New Orleans. And they were playing in freezing temperatures at one of the NFL’s most intimidating stadiums.
What’s more, in a game that figured to be won by ground forces, they were playing the league’s leading rushing team and doing so without their own leading rusher (Pierre Thomas).
Yet, despite the bleak circumstances, the Saints prevailed, primarily because this team, unlike so many before them, is built to win in just such situations. Led by their suffocating defense and an inspired rushing offense, the Saints dominated the Eagles in the trenches and controlled the game largely from start to finish.
“I think our coaching staff said it best,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “They said that the losses on the road in the playoffs were a thing of the past with a lot of different players. They told us that this team is the team of 2014, with different players and for us to go out and win the way we can. We just need to go out and create our own destiny and not wory
While the Saints were underdogs when they took the field in the 19-degree wind chill, they would be considered live long shots in horse racing parlance because of their edges at the game’s two most important positions: head coach and quarterback.
Chip Kelly will receive a lot of votes for NFL Coach of the Year for the admirable job he did in his rookie season, but he was taken to school by Payton. Payton was one step ahead of his adversary seemingly all night and continually pushed the right buttons at just the right times. Payton stuck with the running game. He didn’t panic when Brees threw a pair of early interceptions. And he lit a fire under the special teams when they needed it most.
Moments after the Eagles took the lead late in the fourth quarter, Payton gathered the Saints’ kickoff return team on the field for an animated pep talk. The season was on the line. The Eagles had just regained the lead and the sellout crowd was rocking
Whatever Payton said, it worked wonders. Darren Sproles scampered 39 yards with the ensuing kickoff, picking a most opportune time for his longest return of the season.
The Saints received a bonus when officials flagged Cary Williams for a horse-collar tackle on Sproles at the end of the return. Suddenly, the Saints found themselves starting the decisive drive inside Eagles’ territory at the 48-yard line. All things considered, Sproles’ return might have been the biggest play of the game.
The Eagles had the lead. But the Saints had control. Payton never allowed the Eagles another chance. Eight of the Saints’ next nine plays were runs, including a second-and-11 ramble of 13 yards by Khiry Robinson. When’s the last time the Saints ran in that situation?
The Saints marched 34 yards on 10 clock-eating plays and set up Shayne Graham’s winning field goal as time expired. The finish was eerily similar to Payton’s first playoff win in 2006 against, coincidentally, the Eagles, when the Saints extinguished almost the entire final 8 minutes by running Deuce McAllister at a sapped Eagles defense on down after down. The final score that year: Saints 27, Eagles 24.
Brees, meanwhile, showed his Austin, Texas, Westlake High understudy, Nick Foles, how a veteran quarterback operates in the postseason. He only passed for 250 yards but deftly managed the game down the stretch. Brees did not let his two first-half interceptions faze him and directed the Saints to scores on five of their final six drives.
In the end, he delivered the sixth playoff win in his eight-year Saints’ tenure and yet another “first” for the franchise. Brees and the rest of the Saints will never have to hear another word about how they can’t win a road playoff game. Now they just have to do it again next week in Seattle.