Saints vs Eagles: Recapping Wild Card Saturday
The New Orleans Saints came to Philadelphia for what seemed likely to be a shootout featuring two high octane offenses in the NFL’s second playoff game. The game did not start that way as the first quarter ended without a score and Alex Henry missed a field goal early in the second. When Drew Brees threw an interception (that was mostly receiver Kenny Still’s fault) my Twitter timeline was full with the groupthink idea that Brees and the Saints can’t play on the road and in the cold.
The Saints seemed determined to sustain long drives on offense. They were committed to the run game. After the Henry field goal attempt the Saints had a drive that lasted almost 5 minutes before a Jimmy Graham fumble in the red zone. The play however was reviewed and reversed the Saints retained possession and faced a 4th & short. This is where New Orleans made one of their worst mistakes. Benjamin Watson was called for a false start and the Saints settled for a field goal. This must have been a wild swing of emotions for the Saints faithful. First they think their star tight end gave away the ball, and then they think they convert on 4th and 1 and finally they kick a field goal.
The Eagles intercepted Drew Brees for the second time with 4:12 left in the first half. This was a big opportunity for the Eagles. They had a chance to turn a Saints mistake into points to capture the lead and momentum before the first half expired. That is exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles did. On a 3rd & 9 quarterback Nick Foles found Riley Cooper leaping in the end zone for a touchdown.
On that scoring drive a Saints defensive player was injured. Chip Kelly was upset and the fans were booing vigorously which displayed a sickening trend in football. People now assume when a defensive player gets injured that he is just buying time for his teammates to catch their breaths and slow down the offense. It is embarrassing that this is assumed. While I admit it does happen you want to give players the benefit of the doubt. Injuries are not to be taken lightly and in a league that preaches player safety you must stop play and attend to the player down on the field. Remember, Atlanta fans booed New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork who fell down; he had an injury that sidelined him for the entire season.
It was now a critical moment for the high powered Saints offense. The Saints absolutely needed a score before the half. The Saints managed to get into field goal range for newly acquired Shayne Graham. The drive was nothing special, Brees was sacked twice and the drive was kept alive by a penalty. Special or not New Orleans got 3 points at the end of the first half which made it a 1 point ball game.
Of Saturday’s two games you would expect the offense to come from the Saints and the Eagles. The Colts won 45-44 of their game and at the half of their Eagles led 7-6. Some of it was good defense. A lot of it was bad offense. Drew Brees threw 2 interceptions. One of these interceptions was not his fault, the other was a horrible decision. The Eagles only score came when the Saints gave them a short field. Both teams needed to execute better in the second half.
New Orleans came out with an impressive drive to start the second half. The Saints went down the field and scored with a well-executed 6 play touchdown drive. They set up a play action pass to the veteran Lance Moore with run formations and two strong runs from Mark Ingram including an 18 yarder.
On the subsequent drive Eagles receiver Riley Cooper dropped a pass on 3rd & 4 and the Eagles were forced to punt to the Saints. With a 13-7 lead the Saints had a huge opportunity with good field position to take command of the game.
The Saints took advantage of the opportunity with an 8 play touchdown drive. The Saints playcalling was great. They were able to protect Brees as he rifled completed passes. The Eagles had to respect the Saints run game that had been very productive tonight, especially in formations with multiple tight ends. 7-8 Eagles drives had ended without points. The Saints at this point scored two field goals and two touchdowns.
There was plenty of time left but if the Eagles could not come up with a score on the next drive they would be in a troubling situation. Nick Foles must have gotten the memo when he hit Desean Jackson for a 40 yard gain taking advantage of Saints corner Keenan Lewis’s injury. The big pass play set up the Eagles second touchdown drive to make it a 20-14 game. Early in the 4th quarter the Saints went three and out and the Eagles offense went right back to work. They had found their rhythm and the Saints secondary problems helped the pass game. The Eagles had to settle for a field goal however and the Eagles cut it to a 3 point Saints lead.
On the next drive Drew Brees found Robert Meachum who got behind the safeties for a 40 yard strike. The momentum that the Eagles had accrued had seemingly vanished. If the Saints scored a touchdown they would be up two scores with only 8 minutes remaining. The Eagles however had other ideas. The Saints squandered the opportunity, scoring only a field goal. This made the score 23-17 and it was still anyone’s ball game.
8 plays later the Eagles scored a touchdown and a PAT and were up by one point. Desean Jackson drew a PI call again on the backup corner that put the ball on the 1 yard line. The Saints trailed by 1.
The next Saints drive started with great field position after Darren Sproles was horse collar tackled after an already outstanding return. The Saints were able to run the clock out and kick a field goal. The New Orleans Saints won their first road playoff game in their history. The New Orleans Saints ended a great day of football with clutch play.