By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—The worst thing about facing a team with a playoff losing streak is that you hope it doesn’t end when that team plays your squad.
The New Orleans Saints came into Saturday’s NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field against the Eagles having never won a playoff game as the visiting team.
The Saints road playoff woes came to an abrupt halt in their last-second 26-24 win over a stunned Eagles squad in front of 69,144 fans who were hoping their team would make a deep run into the postseason.
“I just think that everybody is disappointed that we’re not moving forward,” said head coach Chip Kelly.
In a game in which the lead changed hands five times, Shayne Graham’s 32-yard field goal with time running out ended what was a surprisingly good season for the Eagles. New Orleans will take on the Seattle Seahawks in a divisional playoff matchup next week.
The loss was especially painful to an Eagles team that felt they were a better team than New Orleans. At the end of the day, the Birds also know that they have themselves to blame.
“Even when they were up 20-7, I felt like we were going to win the game the whole time,” said left tackle Jason Peters. “We just didn’t pull it out. I felt like we were the better team. We were moving the ball on their defense. We just stalled out on a couple of third and shorts and we had to clear them out.”
After the Eagles had taken a 24-23 lead on a three-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to tight end Zach Ertz with 4:58 left, the Saints got a 39-yard kickoff return from Darren Sproles, who appeared to be headed for a touchdown if not for an illegal horse-collar tackle by cornerback Cary Williams.
While Williams tackle kept Sproles from scoring, the Eagles were penalized 15-yards which moved the ball to the Eagles 48. He said it was the only thing he could do to keep Sproles from scoring.
“I did whatever I could to get the guy down. I’m the safety valve,” Williams said. “(Sproles) broke outside the contain. It was just me and him out there. I made the best decision I possibly could. My thoughts were I was just trying to get him down. It didn’t matter whether it was a horse collar or whatever. I didn’t want him to score to at least give our defense the opportunity to stop them.”
The Saints forced the Eagles to take their final two timeouts while moving the ball down to the Birds 14 and running down the clock to three second to set up Graham’s field goal.
“It sucks because there was nothing we could do, but watch,” said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who gained 77 yards on 21 carries. “They killed us slowly. It was a terrible feeling.”
In what was a close game, the Eagles had their issues on both sides of the football. The offense, which averaged over 400 yards during the regular season, was sluggish and inconsistent in the first half and much of the third quarter.
“We just weren’t executing,” said Foles, who complete 23-of-33 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. “I was missing throws and the Saints was doing a great job. We just weren’t executing as an offense.”
After getting a pair of Drew Brees interceptions in the first half, the Eagles offense couldn’t take advantage. Oddly enough, the Eagles had a 7-6 lead at the half thanks to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Foles to wide receiver Riley Cooper.
But the Eagles also missed a 48-yard field goal and the offense had hard time getting out of its own way.
Early in the second quarter, the Birds drove down to the Saints 15. But lost huge chunks of yardage on a botched tight end screen that cost them eight yards and a sack on Foles that cost them another 11 yards. Two plays later, Henery missed that 48-yard field goal.
“We need to come away with seven instead of three to begin with and we ended up kicking a field goal,” Kelly said. “I think they did a better job of executing in those situations and their red zone defense was better than our offense.”
The Saints surged to a 20-7 third quarter lead by scoring a pair of touchdowns—a2 4-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Lance Moore and a four-yard run by running back Mark Ingram.
New Orleans was able to move out in front because of its running game which kept the Eagles defense on its heels. The Saints rushed for 185 yards on the ground with 97 coming from Ingram.
“That was the story of the game,” said Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin. “We have been keeping teams under 100 yards all season long. This was the wrong game to give up a good rusher. It was way too much and it showed on that last drive.”
The Eagles recovered from their offensive funk late in the third quarter and scored 10 straight points to cut the lead to 20-17. The Saints would add a field goal, but the Eagles last drive to put them ahead.
The frustrating part for the Eagles offense things didn’t really get things moving until late in the game.
“It was very frustrating, we had lot of opportunities that the defense put in our favor,” said Eagles center Jason Kelce. “We just didn’t get it done offensively. It took a long time to get it going.”