PHILADELPHIA — The New Orleans Saints finally came up with the right plan for outdoor playoff football in cold weather. It got them their first postseason road victory.
Shayne Graham’s 32-yard field goal, the fourth of the game for the recent addition to the team, won it on the final play, 26-24 over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night. Drew Brees, who threw for a touchdown and guided the 34-yard drive to the winning kick, didn’t need to be a big star because the Saints’ running game and defense — along with Graham’s leg — provided the heroics.
“It’s just, man, believing in each other, ignoring what everyone else has to say,” Brees said.
New Orleans had been 0-5 in postseason games outside of the Big Easy since entering the league in 1967. The Saints (12-5) will play at NFC top-seed Seattle next Saturday; they lost there 34-7 in the regular season.
“It’s loud, it’s crazy, they’ve got a good thing going there,” Brees said of the next challenge.
Graham, signed by the Saints just over two weeks ago to replace long-time kicker Garrett Hartley, also connected from 36, 46 and 35 yards.
Brees threw for a touchdown, Mark Ingram rushed for 97 yards and another score, and the Saints’ defense slowed Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense just enough.
Philadelphia wound up 10-7 in Kelly’s first year as coach. He guided them from worst to first in the NFC East, but they were only 4-5 at home.
Nick Foles hit rookie Zach Ertz for a 3-yard touchdown with 4:54 remaining as Philadelphia rallied from a 13-point deficit to take a one-point lead. But Darren Sproles had a 39-yard kickoff return and a horse-collar tackle brought New Orleans to the Philadelphia 48. Using mostly runs, the Saints ate up the clock and set up Graham’s winner.
“We know what we’re all about,” he said. “This was a great testament to that. Coming on the road, hostile environment, great team, one of the hottest teams in football and getting one of those big victories.”
Two teams with prolific offenses couldn’t get on track for much of the wild-card game.
Graham’s 46-yarder as the first half ended made it 7-6 as everyone wondered where all the offensive fireworks went. The teams combined for an average of 816.7 yards and 53.5 points per game during the regular season.
When Riley Cooper, who earlier scored Philadelphia’s first touchdown, had a huge drop in the third quarter, the Saints immediately made Philly pay. A 66-yard drive highlighted by Benjamin Watson’s 27-yard reception led to Ingram’s TD from the 4 for a 20-7 lead.
That’s when the Eagles finally made a dynamic play with the ball, DeSean Jackson’s leaping 40-yard catch over Corey White. NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy scored from the 1 on fourth down to make things close.
Jackson helped make it closer with a 29-yard punt return that set up Alex Henery’s 31-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, cutting the Saints’ lead to 20-17.
Another 40-yard completion, from Brees to seldom-used Robert Meachem, led to Graham’s 35-yard field goal, setting up the frantic finish.
Jackson was the central figure in setting up Ertz’s go-ahead score, drawing a 40-yard pass interference call on the beleaguered White. But Brees then guided the winning drive.