While the second game on the Wild Card schedule was not quite as “wild” as the first, it was not void of drama and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, both combined to set and NFL record. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints’ defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24, as the recently signed Shayne Graham‘s 32-yard field goal- his fourth three-pointer of the game – provided the points that New Orleans needed to win on the last play of the game. The narrow victories by the Colts and the Saints made Saturday the first day in NFL postseason history on which two different games were decided by a margin of two-or-fewer points.
Brees, who played much at better at home this season than on the road, stayed true to form, as he completed 20 of 30 passes for 250 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions outdoors in Philly. Where Brees was very effective was spreading the ball out and taking what the Eagles defense gave him. He connected with nine different receivers during the game, but no teammate had as many as 50 receiving yards. In Brees’s eight years with the Saints, only twice have they won a regular-season game in which no player had as many as 50 receiving yards (against the Giants in 2006 and against the Jets in 2009). This is the second time Brees has won a game in that manner in the postseason, having done it in the 2009 NFC Championship Game against the Vikings when he went on to become Super Bowl MVP in a win over the Colts. As Andrew Luck did in Indy earlier in the day, Brees had to also overcome a bad first half. He was 10-18 for 98 yards and two interceptions in the first 30 minutes of play. Bouncing back in the second half, Brees was 10 of 12 for 152 yards and a score. The Saints had been 0-3 in previous playoff games in which he has thrown an interception.
New Orleans had been 0-5 in postseason games outside of the Big Easy since entering the league in 1967 and were 0-3 on the road this season vs. playoff teams. The difference in the game was a guy named Graham and his first name is Shayne not Jimmy. When the Saints offense stalled, Shayne Graham bailed them out. Now with his 10th team after being signed by the Saints just more than two weeks ago to replace longtime kicker Garrett Hartley, Graham also connected from 36, 46 and 35 yards.
The Saints, who entered the contest 25th in the NFL this season rushing the football and without the injured Pierre Thomas at running back, ran the ball effectively enough to limit the Eagles high-powered offenses chances. Brees threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore and former Alabama RB Mark Ingram rushed for 97 yards and another score, as the Saints amassed 185 rushing yards on the night.
A notorious passing team, the Saints relied on the run all night. New Orleans gained 14 first downs by rushing and 11 by passing Saturday. This was the first time the Saints gained more first downs by rushing than passing since Week 6 of the 2010 season against the Buccaneers.
Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan instituted an effective game plan that pressured Eagles QB Nick Foles and limited the high-powered up-temp scheme of Chip Kelley to just 256 total yards. Philly, who entered the contest with the leagues rushing champion in LeSean McCoy and ranked No.1 this season when running the ball, were limited to just 85 total rushing yards on the night.
During the regular season the Eagles averaged 160.4 yards per game but the Saints defense held McCoy to 2.9 yards per rush between the tackles, his second-lowest average this season and the lowest allowed by the Saints. The Eagles lost all three games this season when McCoy averaged 3.0 yards per rush or fewer between the tackles. While the Saints held Philadelphia to half of their season total, N.O. doubled their output as they averaged 92.1 yards per game on the ground in 2013. The 185 rushing yards was the second most in Saints playoff history.
The Saints defense also help keep the Eagles big plays on offense in check. N.O. held Philly to one play of 25 yards or more, tied for the fewest by the Eagles in a game this season. The Eagles led the NFL with 62 such plays during the regular season. This was the Saints first playoff win on the road in franchise history. N.O. did not play a perfect game but they overcame cold temperatures and used a well-defined playoff formula for success. They played great defense and ran the football. They had previously lost each of their three road playoff games with Drew Brees despite him averaging over 400 passing yards per game. They allowed over 35 points in each of those losses.
The prize for their first road playoff win in team history, a date with the No.1 seeded Seahawks in Seattle. The Saints will have to do the impossible next week as they travel to the great Northwest. Seattle has lost just once at home during the last two seasons, as Brees and company were victims in a recent Monday Night contest. Behind a dominating defensive performance and a 310-yard, three TD performance from Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, Seattle reigned supreme with a convincing 34-7 win back on Dec 3. The Seahawks held Brees to just 147 passing yards and the Saints offense to 188 total yards in that contest.
Back in 2011 during the Wild Card round of the playoffs, the then 7-9 Seahawks defeated the then defending Super Bowl Champion Saints. Seattle shocked the world that afternoon winning a 41-36 contest. That game will be forever remembered, as the game in which Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch went into complete “Beast Mode”, with what many consider the best TD run in post-season history. Lynch broke what seemed like 100 tackles on his way to a 67-yard TD. The score put Seattle up 40-31 and proved to be the game winner.
Stats & Info courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info and the Elias Sports Bureau.