That was unexpected.
The New Orleans Saints earned their first road playoff win (yes, ever) on Saturday night, by besting the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24 with a last-second Shayne Graham field goal. It was everything we've said the Saints couldn't do—play outdoors, with a hostile road crowd, in the cold.
Now, Saints faithful may have hoped for it—because that's what being a fan is all about—but the Eagles looked awfully formidable at home. For quarterback Drew Brees and Co., that just didn't matter.
Following the game, Brees spoke with NBC's Michele Tafoya and practically gushed about the confidence the Saints had coming into this game. This, of course, came after shaking up their road routine to ward off their bugaboos from the regular season. Yet, in his words, the team had "nothing but confidence."
After their performance against the Eagles, it's difficult not to believe him.
Brees did not exactly have the game of his life against the Eagles. The numbers were OK—although, perhaps not by Brees' lofty standards. Completing 20 of 30 passes for 250 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in a playoff road win would be good enough for a lot of passers, but we all know Brees can be even better.
Beyond the numbers, the passes looked off. This wasn't the crisp version of Brees we are accustomed to seeing, the one who deals out passes like a riverboat blackjack dealer. No, many of them looked labored, off-target due to pressure and just generally not with the spin and velocity we usually see.
We know, too, that tight end Jimmy Graham is usually good for more than the three catches he had on four targets for a paltry 44 yards. As Brees has been wont to do, he hit 10 different receivers, but none had more than Graham's 44 yards.
Yet, the Saints won.
That's the point here. It isn't that the Saints can unleash some uber-explosive offense and put up 50 points on anyone, or that they're that much more dominant than everyone else in the entire league. That isn't how things have worked—for any team—in 2013.
Instead, the Saints get to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs knowing that with every single chip stacked against them, they could still find a way to come out on top. They advance battle-tested rather than road weary. They've turned that confidence into a well-founded faith that they can do whatever it takes to reach their goals—no less than a Super Bowl title.
It's a knowledge and bravado that the Saints will need next weekend as they travel to take on the Seattle Seahawks. Earlier this year, the Seahawks trounced the Saints to the tune of 34-7. It was embarrassing. It proved a lot of the doubters right about them.
I, admittedly, was one of those doubters.
The problems with the Saints go further than just whether or not they're at home or on the road. That is part of it, for sure, but the question marks also dot the offensive line and their offensive rhythm on the road, as Brees has (for much of the season) wilted under pressure he has thrived under before.
Did Brees wilt on Saturday night? Absolutely not.
Thrive? Maybe not, but the Saints were still able to pull out a win by relying on running back Mark Ingram (97 yards on 18 carries) and a defense that held the Eagles to their lowest yardage total since Week 8.
Who can the Saints be? They can be winners—even on the road. They showed that on Saturday night against the Eagles, and one has to assume they'll be bringing a similar confidence to Seattle next weekend.