The New Orleans Saints advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the third time in franchise history after beating the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14 in the divisional round on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Drew Brees powered the Saints in the win, throwing for 301 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Alvin Kamara had 106 yards from scrimmage, while Michael Thomas caught 12 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown.
In what's likely to be his last game with the team, Nick Foles finished with 201 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The Eagles got the ball to the Saints' 27-yard line with one minute, 52 seconds left in the game to get into position for a possible go-ahead score. Alshon Jeffery let a Foles pass slip through his hands and into the arms of New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore to deny Philadelphia's comeback attempt.
Saints Running Game Will Determine Outcome in Rematch vs. Rams
As much as Brees means to the Saints, the duo of Kamara and Mark Ingram will most likely set the tone for New Orleans in the conference title game.
In their matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, the Los Angeles Rams held Ezekiel Elliott to 47 yards on 20 carries. The Cowboys gained just 308 yards as a team.
Los Angeles also held the ball for 36 minutes, 13 seconds, keeping the Dallas defense on the field for long stretches. The Rams defensive line dominated the Cowboys up front, and that had a domino effect for the rest of the game.
The Saints can counteract that with Kamara and Ingram, who ran for 115 yards in their 45-35 victory earlier this year.
Neither Kamara nor Ingram had a big game against the Eagles, but they both delivered key runs in the fourth quarter to help the Saints seal the win.
Ingram broke free for a 36-yard run to get New Orleans into Philadelphia territory on a drive that culminated in a 39-yard field goal by Wil Lutz to give the home team a six-point lead.
Kamara got the critical first down run on what proved to be the final possession of the game. On 3rd-and-10 with 1:03 remaining, he gained 12 yards to move the chains and allow the Saints to run off the remaining time on the clock.
New Orleans already beat the Rams once in a shootout. They'd be better off trying to slow down the pace a bit more in the second go-round in order to keep Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods and Los Angeles' high-powered offense off the field.
Foles' Underwhelming Performance a Warning Sign for Interested Suitors This Offseason
Foles was going to fall back to earth sooner or later in the playoffs. One could argue that process was already underway, as his final numbers in Philadelphia's two postseason games leave something to be desired.
It was hard not to view Foles' effort through the prism of his likely free agency or trade sweepstakes. Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wrote earlier this week the Eagles quarterback might be "one of the most pursued players of all time," on par with Reggie White when White was a free agent in 1993.
After Sunday, one has to question whether Foles is worth the kind of attention he has received in preparation for the offseason.
Although Foles doesn't deserve much blame for the late interception, he missed his receivers on multiple occasions with poorly thrown passes.
Foles is shaping up to be the Kirk Cousins of the 2019 offseason.
The Minnesota Vikings signed Cousins for $84 million guaranteed over three years in the hope he'd be an All-Pro quarterback with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs by his side and lead them to the Super Bowl. Instead, Cousins was merely pretty good, and Minnesota missed the playoffs altogether.
It's not that hard to envision a desperate general manager acquiring Foles with the expectation he'll be the guy who threw for 971 yards and six touchdowns in three playoff games en route to the Super Bowl. Said GM would ignore the larger sample that points to Foles being a good QB but not one on whom you bank the future of your franchise.
Given the lack of supply and incredible demand for proven passers in every offseason, somebody will pay a premium for Foles one way or the other. And that's likely to be a big mistake.
Saints Can't Afford Another Slow Start in NFC Title Game
Through one quarter Sunday, the Saints trailed 14-0 and looked out of sorts.
New Orleans subsequently became the next team to overcome a 14-point deficit in the playoffs and prevail.
Rich Eisen @richeisen
The #Eagles know that falling behind at home 14-0 as the 1-seed isn’t the end of things. They came back from that deficit as the 1-seed in 2003. It’s also happened twice since with the home team also coming back to win in New England 4 years ago. #Saints trying to make it 3-of-4 https://t.co/yU9tGZljbg
Against the Eagles, crawling out of an early hole is difficult but not impossible. Philadelphia lacked a consistent running game and was without multiple starters on defense. Fletcher Cox injured his foot in Sunday's game, which left the team in an even bigger bind.
The Rams would be much better prepared to hold a double-digit first-quarter advantage. They rank second in offensive efficiency and third in yards per drive (38.99), per Football Outsiders. Even if Los Angeles didn't continue piling on the points, head coach Sean McVay could use Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson to run precious time off the clock.
Back in Week 9, New Orleans jumped out to a 14-7 lead on the Rams and gained 150 yards through the first quarter. While the Saints still had plenty of work ahead in order to secure a win, their quick start made that job a lot easier.
Looking ahead to next week, New Orleans opened as the early favorite.
Los Angeles can turn the NFC title game on its head by putting the Saints on their back foot right from the outset.
The Saints will play the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game, with kickoff scheduled for 3:05 p.m. ET on Jan. 20.