The Saints have slain their road dragon.
Shayne Graham’s 32-yard field goal as time expired gave the Saints a 26-24 victory over the Eagles, the first time they’ve won a road playoff game in the history of the franchise. The kick sends the Saints to Seattle next weekend, the site of one of their previous road failures in the postseason.
They’ll be heading to the Pacific Northwest thanks in large part to their running game and their defense. The Saints ran the ball 36 times for 185 yards, allowing them to control the tempo of the game for most of the night. It was an impressive performance by the offensive line and by a coterie of backs that didn’t include the injured Pierre Thomas, which led Sean Payton to lean on them late. The final drive, which followed Zach Ertz’ go-ahead touchdown, started in Philly territory after a good Darren Sproles kick return and a Cary Williams horse collar that might have saved a touchdown, and the Saints ran the ball or kneeled on eight of nine plays to set up Graham’s kick.
Drew Brees played well in the second half, connecting on 10-of-12 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown, after throwing two interceptions in the first half. The running game was still the standout of the night for New Orleans, though, as it allowed them to answer once and for all whether they have the offensive adaptability to win when everything isn’t going their way through the air.
New Orleans hit a rough patch defensively after cornerback Keenan Lewis was knocked out of the game with a possible concussion, but their strong work until that point allowed them to survive 17 second-half points from the Eagles. The Saints held LeSean McCoy to 77 yards on 21 carries, a huge win given the occasional difficulties that the Saints had against the run during the regular season.
The Eagles will have plenty of things to kick themselves about when they look back on the game, including a brutal drop by Riley Cooper on third down in the third quarter when he had nothing but empty field between him and a huge gain. There was also a drive that featured a first down on the New Orleans 15-yard line in the first half that ended with no points, something that really stands out when you lose by two. They wound up being outgained by nearly 200 yards, telling you much of what you need to know about the work their offense and defense did on Saturday night.
Lewis’ status is certainly something to watch, but New Orleans should feel good about what they did on both sides of the ball while they try not to remember that they were run out of Seattle in a 34-7 loss not too long ago.