NEW ORLEANS (CBS) — This improbable journey was bound to end before reaching its intended destination. Eventually, the house money that the Eagles borrowed would have to be returned.
That the Eagles got this far, reaching the NFC divisional round of the playoffs, before being ousted by the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in a heart-wrenching 20-14 loss at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, was a victory in itself — though many may not see it that way.
The Saints will move on to the NFC Championship, where they’ll host the Los Angeles Rams next Sunday at 3 p.m., while Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs will host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship on Sunday at 6:40 p.m. on CBS.
After being up 14-0 early, the Eagles saw their season end at 10-8 overall, after a Nick Foles’ pass went through the hands of Alshon Jeffery and into the waiting arms of Marshon Lattimore with less than two minutes to play.
To win, the Eagles couldn’t make mistakes. They did. To win, the Eagles had to play flawless. They didn’t.
Like when the Eagles seemed to be holding the Saints in check, looking at a 3rd-and-16 at the Eagles’ 32 with 3:21 left in the third quarter. But the Eagles displayed a season-long inability to make big stops in crucial spots all season (4th-and-15 vs. Tennessee, which resulted in the Titans’ winning score in overtime; 4th-and-10 that Carolina converted with a 35-yard completion to Torrey Smith, which resulted in the Panthers’ winning score) and this was nothing new.
So, when Drew Brees settled back in the pocket, with little heat from the Eagles’ defensive front, it didn’t come as a complete surprise that it resulted in a 20-yard completion and a Saints’ first down.
Two plays later, Brees hit Michael Thomas in the end zone for the Saints’ first lead, 17-14, on a two-yard TD toss.
Good vibes came early when cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc reached up and hauled down an under-thrown Brees pass intended for Alvin Kamara on the first play of the game.
The Eagles turned that into a seven-play, 76-yard scoring drive. The big play was Foles spinning free and throwing a 37-yard rainbow to Jordan Matthews for a 7-0 Eagles lead.
On the Eagles second drive, they went 75 yards over 10 plays — and in 10 minutes, 23 seconds, the Eagles doubled their point total of the Nov. 18 nightmare loss in New Orleans.
With 4:37 left in the first quarter and the Eagles up 14-0, the Eagles had outgained the Saints 151 yards to 0, averaging 8.9 yards per play, dominated the time of possession, 9:19 to 1:04, and amassed eight first downs to the Saints’ 0.
The momentum swing came when Saints’ coach Sean Payton opted to grab control of the game on a fake punt. The Eagles had stopped the Saints on a third-and-short at their 30, when Taysom Hill took a fake punt up the middle for aone1-yard gain with 11:20 left in the half.
That got the Saints going.
They wound up scoring 10 points and finished the half with 10 first downs and 194 yards of total offense, to the Eagles’ 11 first downs and 199 yards of total offense.
Since going up 14-0, the Eagles were outgained by the Saints 194-48, only able to pick up three first downs to the Saints’ 10 in that span. By the end of the half, the Saints had the edge in time of possession, 15:18 to 14:42.
It didn’t help that the Eagles lost starting Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks, who signals to Jason Kelce when to snap the ball, and for a period of time, Fletcher Cox, who the Saints couldn’t seem to block, triggering two New Orleans holding calls in the first half.
LeBlanc intercepting a pass from Brees on the first play of the game at the Eagles’ 24. LeBlanc played well the entire game, coming up with a fourth-quarter open-field tackle on Kamara to force a field goal.
The Eagles first drive: seven plays, 76 yards, ending in Foles’ 37-yard rainbow to Matthews for a 7-0 lead.
Foles going 5-for-5 for 65 yards and a 37-yard TD pass to Matthews on the Eagles’ first possession.
The Eagles second drive: 10 plays, 75 yards, ending in Foles’ one-yard plunge into the end zone and a 14-0 lead.
Defensive end Brandon Graham’s 14-yard strip sack of Brees, pushing the ball back to the Saints’ 31 with :34 left in the first quarter.
Defensive tackle Michael Bennett hauling down Kamara for a three-yard loss at 3:08 to play, which forced the Saints into a missed field goal.
Graham failing to pick up the fumble on the Brees’ strip sack with :34 left in the first quarter. The first rule of football is that you fall on a fumble.
Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan getting called for a taunting penalty on the Saints’ third possession at the Saints’ 7. Jernigan stopped the Saints for a one-yard loss, when Jernigan had to stand over Kamara and taunt him, giving the Saints their first first down of the game.
The Eagles’ inability to get off the field on 3rd-and-16 at the Eagles’ 32 with 2:39 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles’ inability to stop Brees and the Saints on 3rd-and-13 with 6:06 left to play, and a 22-yard completion to Thomas.
Jeffery having a quick pass go through his hands into the waiting arms of Lattimore, which ended the Eagles’ season.