NEW ORLEANS — When the Saints finally found their rhythm, they marched one step closer to the Super Bowl.
Behind two touchdown passes from Drew Brees and two interceptions from Marcus Lattimore, New Orleans advanced to the NFC Championship Game with a 20-14 victory over the Eagles on Sunday to end the defending Super Bowl champions’ postseason run.
Brees took the Saints on scoring drives of 92, 79 and 67 yards after falling behind 14-0. Lattimore clinched it when Nick Foles’ pass from the Saints’ 27 deflected off the hands of Philadelphia receiver Alshon Jeffery with about two minutes remaining. A couple dozen New Orleans players surged off the sideline toward the end zone in celebration, while Jeffery fell face-first to the turf in despair.
“We were real calm and poised and we knew we were going to get things done,” Brees said.
New Orleans will host the NFC title game Sunday against the Rams, who lost 45-35 to the host Saints in November.
Photo: Butch Dill / Associated Press
Image 1 1
Wil Lutz added two field goals for New Orleans, who last got this far in the 2009 season, when the Saints won the Super Bowl.
“We were going down to win, but I just felt like we beat ourselves, honestly,” Jeffery said. “Hats off to those guys.”
This was really two games in one. Philly scored on its first two drives as the Saints could do virtually nothing right.
“Listen, they got off to a fast start. They’re a great team,” Brees said. “Nick Foles has done a phenomenal job for them. We knew it was going to be different than last time.”
After that opening period, it was all New Orleans, yet the Eagles kept it close enough that when Lutz missed a 52-yard field-goal attempt with 2:58 remaining, they were only one score behind.
Foles, the key to last year’s Super Bowl title, got them in position for yet another late winning score — just like the previous Sunday at Chicago and last February against New England for the championship.
Then, Jeffery couldn’t handle a second-down pass, and it was over.
“That’s a great championship team,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said of the Eagles. “We remained confident.”
Brees had 2-yard touchdown passes to rookie Keith Kirkwood and All-Pro wideout Michael Thomas, who had 12 receptions for a franchise playoff-record 171 yards.
Thomas’ touchdown capped an 18-play, 92-yard drive in which the Saints actually covered more than 100 yards because of penalties. It lasted 11½ minutes.
“What you saw from him today is what I see every day in practice,” Brees said of Thomas. “He’s a big-time player who wants to be the guy to make plays.”
Philadelphia had the ball for more than nine minutes in the first quarter, after which the Eagles had the ball about 13 minutes and did not score.
New Orleans, which routed Philadelphia 48-7 in November, gambled on its first play — and lost. Brees was a bit short on a deep pass to Ted Ginn Jr., and it was intercepted by Cre’Von LeBlanc.
“I just think we had to find our rhythm,” Brees said. “I tried to take a shot on the first play. Unfortunately, that didn’t work.”
The Eagles were in control, up 14-0, until Lattimore picked off Foles’ deep throw to Zach Ertz. The Saints showed plenty of moxie on their 79-yard march to a touchdown, faking a punt at their 30, with Taysom Hill running 4 yards for a first down. They also went on 4th-and-goal from the 2, and Philadelphia surrendered Kirkwood’s 2-yard touchdown.
“When you just get that in guys’ minds that we’re going to be aggressive, that we’re going to play to win, it allows guys to relax and to cut loose,” Brees said.
With Brees finding the range and his receivers finding loads of room to roam, New Orleans crept to 14-10 at halftime on Lutz’s 45-yard field goal.
Barry Wilner is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Brees-leads-comeback-as-Saints-stop-Eagles-13530945.php.