notion of a first round playoff victory being a breakthrough for a regime
that's reached two NFC Championships and won a Super Bowl may sound stupid to
some, but not to me.
New Orleans Saints 26-24 road triumph at the Philadelphia Eagles Saturday night
finally removed the albatross of never winning a road playoff game from the
franchise's neck. And, the fact the contest was played in 25-degree weather
means a resounding, 'Yes,' to the question of whether Sean Payton's club can
triumph in the cold.
of the same problems certainly popped up. The Saints offense that somehow
ripped off staggering numbers of points and yardage in the Superdome can be a
root canal outside of New Orleans. Such was the case Saturday night in the
first half, as superstar quarterback Drew Brees was intercepted twice by the
Eagles. The second of which was simply a bad toss and put the Saints behind at
halftime 7-6, instead of perhaps being ahead 10-0. Brees's road turnover
problems this season have been well-documented.
Brees often speaks of 'breaking the seal' and in my opinion, that's what the
Saints finally did in the third quarter. Typically, the reference means getting
that elusive, first, first down of the game, which then leads to a barrage of
offense. In this case, Brees's 24-yard scoring toss to Lance Moore finally got
New Orleans in the end zone and did the trick. It finally gave the Saints a
touch of swagger that's been missing away from home.
Graham's 32-yard field goal was perfect at the gun, as was Payton's gamble on
signing Graham. Making such a drastic move at such a precarious position like
kicker late in the year is very gutsy. But in this case, it was necessary and
Graham was dynamite, going 4-4 on the frigid night, including a lengthy
of brave coaching moves, how about handing the football eight times to rookie
Khiry Robinson in a pressure-packed situation? Had Robinson fumbled the ball
away just once, critics would've crucified Payton for trusting such an unproven
back at such a critical juncture. But the head coach showed great faith in the
West Texas A&M product and Mr. Robinson delivered with 45 very important
rushing yards. He carried three times on the Saints' game-winning march,
tightly gripping the pigskin, as Philadelphia defenders tugged on it in
aggressive desperation. Because of that, Robinson's confidence has to be
still just football," he can tell himself. "I can do this."
defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has to be one of my biggest surprises in sports
this year. From afar, he seemed more sizzle than steak, almost like a cartoon
character rather than a legitimate fix. Boy, did I shoot an air ball on that
one. Ryan's defense, combined with the strong running game of Robinson and a
resurrected Mark Ingram, (91 yards rushing and 1 TD) are the biggest reasons
the Saints won in Philly. Chip Kelly's explosive Philadelphia offense was held
to an anemic 256 total yards. The Saints tackled in space and hit hard. They
hit so hard that invaluable cornerback Keenan Lewis knocked himself out of the
game. Ryan's defense gives this team a chance on the road. What a job he has
done with a unit that was historically awful last season.
Seattle on the road is a whole different challenge. The long trip to the Northwest
taxes and tests the body. Also, the crowd noise at Qwest Field is ear-splitting.
But, here's the deal. The Seahawks played a perfect game the first time around
against the Saints at home, embarrassing them on Monday Night Football 34-7 in
early December. It felt more like 134-7. New Orleans, on the other hand, couldn't
have played any worse. The team was absolutely DOA. I expect neither to occur
this time around.
that mean the Saints can win? I'm not sure. It will certainly be tough, but I
do know Saturday night's thriller in Philadelphia can only help this team's
belief in itself and its morale. The Saints finally 'broke the seal' away from
another box of Popeyes. More magic could be on the way.
Sunday, January 5 2014 2:17 AM EST2014-01-05 07:17:25 GMT
After hearing all week about their 3-5 road record and their 0-5 playoff record on the road, the Saints can finally do something about it in Philadelphia. The Saints rank fourth in the league in totalMore >>
Saints kicker Shayne Graham connected on four field goals, the last as time expired, to lift New Orleans to a 26-24 win over the Eagles in an NFC wild-card playoff game.More >>