It looks like the New Orleans Saints can win on the road in cold weather after all, following a 26-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wild Card Round.
That had been one of the biggest question marks surrounding the team, as it had never won a postseason road game coming into Saturday night.
Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal as time expired sent the Saints through to the divisional round.
Although this game couldn't match the drama of the Indianapolis Colts' come-from-behind victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, it provided plenty of excitement, especially in the second half, when the game came to life.
You could tell the frigid temperatures in Philadelphia affected the game. Both head coaches used healthy doses of the running game, and neither Drew Brees nor Nick Foles completed many long passes downfield.
Brees finished 20-of-30 for 250 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown, while Foles had 195 yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-33 passing.
Much of the credit for the Saints' win will go to Brees, but they probably wouldn't have been victorious had it not been for the performances of Mark Ingram—97 yards rushing and a touchdown—and Khiry Robinson—45 yards rushing.
The pair helped shoulder much of the offensive burden in the first half. Then, as the game was winding down, with New Orleans driving for the go-ahead score, their runs took valuable seconds off the clock and left little time for a response from the Eagles.
After a lackluster first half that saw the Eagles clinging to a 7-6 lead, the Saints took control in the third quarter. A 24-yard touchdown reception from Lance Moore and four-yard touchdown run from Ingram put them up 20-7.
SportsPickle joked that the game was over—sarcastically alluding to the Colts' amazing victory in which they erased a 28-point gap in the second half against the Chiefs earlier in the day.
It was then that the Eagles mounted their comeback.
The turning point was when the Saints lost their best corner Keenan Lewis to an injury in the third quarter, per NFL: Around the League.
It looked to be the straw that broke the camel's back for an already injury-ravaged secondary. It's no coincidence that DeSean Jackson caught his first pass of the game and finally became a factor in the Eagles offense once Allen was out of the game.
The Eagles were able to put back-to-back scoring drives together and cut the deficit to three points, 20-17, in the fourth quarter. At that point, Philadelphia had all the momentum and looked sure to take the lead back for good.
The Saints curtailed the Eagles' surge with a field goal to increase the lead to six points, 23-17.
With New Orleans' secondary at a disadvantage, Foles drove Philadelphia 92 yards in a little over three minutes, with a three-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz giving the home team a 24-23 lead.
But the Eagles left way too much time on the clock.
The Saints were helped out by Darren Sproles' kickoff return. The veteran running back got the ball down to the New Orleans 37-yard line, before getting horse-collared by Cary Williams. That got the ball into Philadelphia territory before New Orleans had taken a single snap.
Chip Kelly discussed how much that return hurt, per Eagles Insider.
Brees and Co. methodically worked the ball down the field, eventually setting up Graham for his chip shot to win the game.
Key Player Grades
Shayne Graham, New Orleans Saints: A
Kicking in such cold temperatures is never easy. You also have to consider that the Saints signed Graham in December, so he had very little time to integrate himself into the team before he was thrown right into the fire.
The veteran nailed all four of his field goals on Saturday night. The Saints needed to have a kicker that they could rely on, and Graham stepped up every time.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints: A-
Mark Ingram was a workhorse. He didn't break any major runs, nor did he have much of an impact in the passing game, but his performance was instrumental in the Saints' win.
His runs helped ease the pressure on Brees, which was huge because the star quarterback wasn't having his best day. The weather meant the game needed to be won on the ground, and Ingram was a steady presence for the entire game.
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles: B+
Foles did his best to give the Eagles the win, given the conditions. He managed the game, didn't throw an interception and moved the ball efficiently. In the second half, any time the Eagles had the ball, you knew they were going to score, and much of that was due to how well Foles was performing.
By virtue of holding the lowest seed in the NFC, the Saints will travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in the Divisional Round. New Orleans lost 34-7 to the Seahawks back in Week 13, so the Saints no doubt have a lot to prove.
The season is over for the Philadelphia Eagles. It's a tough result, but this season was no doubt a step in the right direction under Chip Kelly.