NFC South: 2014 Wild Card Saints-Eagles


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.
PHILADELPHIA -- Points were hard to come by in the first half Saturday night, but two thrown interceptions by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees have swung the momentum. Here are a few thoughts on the action:

Picked off: The problem that has plagued the Saints on the road all season crept up again -- twice. Brees committed two unforced errors with two interceptions. The first was a deep ball intended for Kenny Stills. The ball hung up in the air, and Stills couldn’t locate it, but cornerback Bradley Fletcher did.

The second interception was more of a stunner. Brees tried to fire a short pass to receiver Lance Moore, but he threw it right into the waiting arms of linebacker DeMeco Ryans. That one was also more costly since the Eagles followed up with a touchdown drive.

Brees only threw 12 interceptions all season. But he threw two of them early in a Week 15 loss at St. Louis, and two in the Week 16 loss at Carolina. It’s an ugly trend he can’t afford to continue in the second half. ... A good reminder -- the same thing happened in the Saints’ last playoff game at San Francisco two years ago, and Brees rallied back with a monster second half.

Defensive battle: The Saints’ defense, meanwhile, has been holding its own for most of this surprisingly low-scoring duel. The Eagles have only 122 yards. Dangerous running back LeSean McCoy has just 42. Saints Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan has been particularly good with a sack and a couple other stops in the backfield. And cornerback Keenan Lewis has remained stingy against big-play threat receiver DeSean Jackson, who has no catches.

But the Saints lost the big-play battle 1-0. They haven’t forced any turnovers. And they allowed a 10-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to Riley Cooper when Foles had too much time to find an open man against a three-man rush.

Running strong: The Saints have stuck with the run game even more than usual tonight, and it’s been working well. They have 94 yards on 16 carries, including 41 on seven carries by Mark Ingram. The good news for them is that the score remains close, so they can remain patient.

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