Saints beat cold weather, Eagles for road win in NFC wild-card game
PHILADELPHIA -- The Saints are agoraphobic no longer.
For the first time in its history, the team that makes its home in the cozy Superdome won a playoff game in the great outdoors. Shayne Graham kicked four field goals, including the game-winning 32-yarder as time expired, to give the Saints a 26-24 win over the Eagles in Saturday night's NFC wild-card game at chilly Lincoln Financial Field.
"I get it, we understand that stereotype that sometimes comes with a team that plays inside, and we can't change that,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said of the narrative that accompanied the team to Philadelphia, where the game-time temperature was a brisk 25 degrees. "We kind of like the environment that we play in and we traveled pretty well tonight.''
The sixth-seeded Saints will put their newfound resistance to the elements on the line again next week when they face the top-seeded Seahawks in Seattle on Saturday. But the fact that the Saints won the game with 185 rushing yards -- without leading rusher Pierre Thomas available because of a chest injury -- seemed to signal their ability to change persona when needed.
"When you get to win a game like that, you've broken it down to the essence of football,'' Payton said. "The line of scrimmage was the difference, I think.''
The play that will gnaw at Philadelphia all winter was a third-and-4 pass from Nick Foles to Riley Cooper, who had nothing but about 20 yards of open field in front of him. But Cooper dropped the ball, capping a second straight three-and-out to start the second half, and the Eagles, trailing 13-7, had to punt.
The Saints turned that change of possession into points. Drew Brees hit Kenny Stills for a 14-yard gain on third-and-12 and found an open Ben Watson for 27 yards. Four plays later, Mark Ingram's 4-yard touchdown run capped a 17-0 run and gave the Saints a 20-7 lead.
The Eagles went ahead 24-23 with 4:54 remaining on a 3-yard pass from Foles to Zach Ertz that was set up by a 40-yard pass-interference call against cornerback Corey White.
But on the ensuing kickoff, which Darren Sproles returned to the New Orleans 37, a horse-collar penalty on Cary Williams gave the Saints the ball at the Eagles' 48, and they drove to the 14 before Graham's game-winner.
The penalty was costly, but Sproles might have had a touchdown had he been able to turn the corner on Williams. "It was get him down, period," Williams said. "I was trying to give my defense the opportunity to get out there and stop them."
Brees ran a pair of quarterback sneaks to convert two third-and-1s on the final drive, which went 34 yards on 10 plays.
"I think there was a little bit of resolve,'' Payton said. "I think our players felt coming in here tonight that there was no way we were going to leave without winning this game.''
Cooper's drop wasn't the only missed opportunity for the Eagles, who failed to get any points off the first of two interceptions of Brees in the first half.
The Eagles drove to the 15, converting a fourth-and-1 from the 23 rather than attempting a 41-yard field goal, but then went 20 yards in the wrong direction in a matter of two snaps. Foles' pass to Brent Celek lost 8 yards and Foles was sacked by Cameron Jordan for a loss of 12 after having nearly eight seconds to find a receiver or throw it away. LeSean McCoy got five of those yards back on a third-down run, but Alex Henery missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt wide left.
The Eagles scored the only touchdown of the first half off the other Brees interception, but a field goal by Graham as time expired in the half cut the lead to 7-6.
For the Saints, the win seemed to erase a lot of history. They not only shed the idea of being unable to win on the road late in the season but earned their first playoff win since 2011. They did not make the playoffs in 2012 as Payton was suspended for the full season for his involvement in a bounty scandal.
"With all the other stuff, including last year," Payton said, "we're sitting here with 12 wins and I'm extremely proud of them."