NFC South: 2014 Wild Card Rapid Reaction
January, 4, 2014
By Mike Triplett | ESPN.com
PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 26-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Saturday's NFC playoff opener, which sends them to Seattle for the divisional round next week.
What it means: Can't win a big game on the road? Can't win out in the cold? The Saints finally made their counter-argument, making this one of the biggest victories in franchise history. It was their first road playoff win of all time, snapping an 0-5 skid. They also snapped a three-game losing streak on the road this year.
However, it won't be any easier to repeat that feat next Saturday at Seattle against the top-seeded Seahawks. The Saints' ugliest performance of the year came at Seattle on a Monday night last month, when they were routed 34-7. They'll need to bring the same run game and defensive effort with them next week that they brought to Philadelphia.
Stock watch: Saints running back Mark Ingram improved his stock about as much as anyone possibly could in one game. After three somewhat disappointing seasons in New Orleans, the former Heisman Trophy winner delivered with a huge performance in one of the biggest games of his NFL career to date -- 18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown. Fellow running back Khiry Robinson also ran eight times for 45 yards as the Saints relied on their run game as much as ever. Fittingly, they even ran out the final four-plus minutes to set up the game-winning field goal by Shayne Graham.
Game balls all around: Who doesn't deserve credit for this win? The run game was huge. The defense was huge. Graham was huge. And Drew Brees was huge after bouncing back from two ugly interceptions in the first half. Last but not least, coach Sean Payton was huge for pushing all the right buttons all week long. (The Gatorade, Popeyes and sweatsuits worked! So did the game plan.)
Up next: Obviously the Saints (12-5) will remain underdogs at Seattle next week. It would be huge for them to get cornerback Keenan Lewis back from the concussion he suffered in the second half at Philadelphia. The Eagles started picking on the Saints' secondary after that.
I absolutely think the Saints can play a much cleaner game at Seattle than they did the first time around. But whether that will be enough against the NFC's top team remains to be seen.