Saints survive Eagles, advance to NFC Championship

Jan. 13 (UPI) — The New Orleans Saints demoralized the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half of a comeback win Sunday in New Orleans, earning a spot in the NFC title game.

New Orleans used an 18-play, 112-yard drive to take up 11:29 of the third quarter of the 20-14 triumph at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The drive ended with a Drew Brees touchdown pass to Michael Thomas, giving the Saints the go-ahead score and a 17-14 edge.

“Obviously, we didn’t start this the way we wanted, but we were calm,” Brees told reporters. “We were poised.”

Philadelphia attempted a late comeback, marching down to the Saints’ 27-yard line, but Nick Foles was intercepted by Marshon Lattimore to end the game. Foles lofted a short pass toward Alshon Jeffery during the play, but the ball went through the veteran receiver’s hands and fell to Lattimore for a turnover.

The Eagles had control of the contest early and appeared en route to their second consecutive NFC title game appearance. Philadelphia scored on its first two drives of the game to take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Foles found Jordan Matthews for a 37-yard score on the Eagles’ first drive. Foles finished a 10-play, 75-yard drive with a one-yard scoring run for the Eagles’ next touchdown.

Then the Saints came marching back into the clash. Lattimore intercepted Foles at the beginning of the second quarter. The Saints responded with a 12-play, 84-yards scoring drive. Brees found Keith Kirkwood for a two-yard touchdown to cap off that drive, closing the Saints’ deficit to seven points.

New Orleans added a 45-yard Wil Lutz field goal 11 seconds before halftime to make the score 14-10.

The Eagles punted after going 3-and-out on their first possession of the second half. New Orleans responded with its longest drive of the season to take command fo the heavyweight matchup. The Eagles punted again on their next drive, while New Orleans got a 39-yard Lutz field goal, pushing its lead to six points in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles punted for a fifth time on their next drive. Lutz missed an opportunity to push the Saints’ lead to two possessions by missing a 52-yard attempt with 3:03 remaining.

Foles followed the folly by throwing the game ending pick to Lattimore.

“You see sometimes just the ebb and flow of a game,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “They got some breaks in there. We were moving the ball … nothing that they did obviously. We just didn’t make enough plays to either stay on the field or continue drives, execute and score.”

Brees completed 28-of-38 passes for 301 yards, two scores and an interception in the win. Foles completed 18-of-31-pass attempts for 201 yards, one score and two interceptions for the Eagles.

Thomas had 171 yards and a touchdown on 12 receptions in the victory.

“It was a hard-fought game,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Tip your hat to Philadelphia. Man those guys came here and brought the fight to us early. They really put us in a hole. Our guys fought back defensively in the second half.”

The Saints host the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship at 3:05 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 20 in New Orleans.

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