No Superdome, no problem.
For the first time in franchise history, the New Orleans Saints won a road playoff game. But Saturday’s get-off-the-schneid, 26-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field has little to do with getting the playoff-win monkey off the team’s back and so much more to do with moving forward.
The Saints’ come-from-behind Wild Card Round win definitely shows New Orleans can win in crunch time in a hostile environment. But the way they won breeds hope that one road win will multiply into many over the next few weeks.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, typically the catalyst for this offense, had an off night. After throwing two interceptions and finishing the first half with a 31.5 passer rating, Brees rebounded in the second half, though he still threw for only 250 yards and one touchdown.
New Orleans played just one game this season where Brees threw for fewer than 250 yards and had just one touchdown pass: a Week 13 road loss to the Seattle Seahawks. It’s fitting that the Saints are slated to travel back to Seattle for a Divisional Round matchup next weekend.
This time, though, the Saints will arrive with a new weapon in their arsenal.
Running backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson each averaged over five yards per carry against the Eagles and together gained 142 yards on the ground. Add in 43 more from Brees, running back Darren Sproles and wide receiver Kenny Stills, and the Saints rushed for 185 yards. The Saints eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark only five times this season and only once bested the yardage mark they rushed for Saturday.
In a game where Brees wasn’t his normally stellar self, in a game where the Saints’ 3-5 road record this season, their 0-5 all-time road playoff record, the bitter cold weather, playing outdoors, the brutal crowd...in a game where all those obstacles piled up like snow that a severe storm showered over the area the day prior, New Orleans overcame.
Ingram paced the Saints’ power-running game with 97 yards. In the 11 games he played in this season, he ran for more yards only once, a 145-yard performance in Week 10 against the Dallas Cowboys. In the other 10 games Ingram appeared, he ran for a combined 241 yards.
Robinson was a force late, rushing for 45 yards, all but 18 in the fourth quarter. His 13-yard gain with 4:07 to play got New Orleans into field-goal position. His nine yards after that helped set kicker Shayne Graham up to seal the win with a 32-yard kick.
If the Saints can run the football in Seattle in the Divisional Round, that introduces a new facet to the Saints attack that no one saw when the two teams met on Dec. 2.
Remember Robinson’s 45 yards on Saturday? That was one more yard than the entire Saints team combined when New Orleans went to Seattle a month ago. In that game, Ingram was the leading rusher with a mere 22 yards. Fullback Jed Collins and Sproles added the rest to account for 44 yards rushing as a team, and the Saints got throttled, 34-7.
Brees had 147 yards through the air and only one touchdown pass. It was one of Brees’ least effective games of the season and it was the Saints’ worst beating of 2013.
According to Mike Nabors of Cox Sports TV, head coach Sean Payton said the team had a “no way we’re gonna lose this game” mentality heading into Saturday’s win. That confidence must be oozing next week in Seattle.
You can bet that Payton will watch a lot of film on three games from this season: the Saints’ 34-7 loss to the Seahawks in Week 13, Saturday’s playoff win over Philadelphia and the Arizona Cardinals’ Week 16 win in Seattle. The first will be a what-not-to-do study, the second an example of a fantastic running game and playoff win, and the third proof that Seattle isn’t invincible at home.
The Seahawks destroyed the Saints during the regular season, but that seems like ancient history after Saturday’s playoff victory. Now that New Orleans has found postseason success on the road, the team’s 3-5 away record this season matched up against Seattle’s 7-1 home record no longer seems like such a disadvantage.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.