We will have the entire week to break down the matchup with Seattle and there will be much to speculate about and debate upon. The main thing I take away from Saturday, though, is that the New Orleans Saints are no longer the franchise that is winless on the road in the playoffs. The Saints are no longer the team that simply cannot find a way to pull out a crucial victory on the road against a playoff caliber team. This playoff albatross that burdened the franchise for nearly 40 years as a dreaded "dome team" now belongs solely to the Detroit Lions and the Houston Texans.
Just as elating as the fact that the Saints finally won on the road is how they did it. The most important thing to happen in the Saints 26-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles was the their decision to go with substance over style. Sean Payton stopped trying to bring the "Superdome Saints" on the road and he adapted the gameplan to fit the situation and circumstances at hand. It wasn't flashy and it wasn't pretty, but it was devastatingly effective. Like an epiphany, Sean Payton and Drew Brees took what the Philly defense was giving them and the Saints suffocated them with it.
Over the course of this game, the Saints successfully did something very few teams could do, they became two distinctly different and dangerous teams. Most familiar is the high-risk, demoralizingly efficient home team, that will drop 35 points on you with ease. The second is a completely different beast altogether, this is the Saints team that can go into a hostile environment and play that "other style of football". Running the ball and stopping the run, the fundamentals of football. On display in this game, particularly in the second half, was an offense willing to take shots at the body, rather than throwing haymakers that weren't connecting, and leaving them vulnerable to counter-punches.
Although the Eagles came into the game with the 32nd ranked pass defense in the NFL, they played inspired pass defense, daring the Saints to establish a strong running game to ultimately win the game. The Saints accepted the challenge and eschewed what is normally expected of them offensively. Philadelphia had the 10th ranked rushing defense in the NFL, and the Saints remained undaunted against it. They were without their most diverse and dependable rusher, yet they gave Mark Ingram the opportunity he desperately craved and afforded Khiry Robinson a chance to prove his ability as well. Neither took the opportunity for granted.
The Saints proved beyond a doubt, they could win with fundamental football, run the ball, stop the run. It was as spectacular a sight as witnessing countless opponents get fed into the woodchipper that is the Superdome, facing the Saints' aerial barrage. On defense, the Saints did another spectacular job, slowing the NFL's leading rusher and stopping one of the most dangerous receivers in the league, just another day at the office for Rob Ryan's crew. Philadelphia's offensive line played even better than I expected, considering the quality of the Saints pass rush, but the Saints did not allow the passing game to get into rhythm in the absence of LeSean McCoy's dominance. It was really only after the loss of Keenan Lewis that the Philly passing attack was able to turn the tide. Regardless of the opportunistic late surge by the Eagles, Rob Ryan game planned a masterpiece on Saturday night.
It goes without saying that no win will surpass the Super Bowl victory, except for the next Super Bowl victory, but this goes down with XLIV and "Hakim drops the ball!" not only for its substance, but also for its significance. In the end, this game was about exorcising demons for the New Orleans Saints and for the Who Dat Nation. With all due respect to the Eagles and their fans, this game had little to do with the opponent as much as it did with the Saints and their psyche. The narrative would've remained the same had the Saints been playing on the road against any other team in that game. Exorcising demons doesn't come without clawing, fighting, kicking, and screaming, and that's how the game ultimately played out. It came down to the foot of a journeyman kicker who was just weeks removed from unemployment. It came with thrills, scares, gutwrenching moments, and finally, redemption.
That, in the end, was the word that parted my lips as Shayne Graham secured victory for the Saints was Finally. It reverberated in stark contrast to the frustrated silence in the stadium as played through the screen. Finally, the Saints crossed the last "big one" off the franchise bucket list. The question should no longer be asked, the Saints are road playoff winners. Are the Saints as dominant on the road as they are at home, no, and as some of my esteemed colleagues here will attest to, what team is? But the Saints now have proven they can be different on the road and equally dangerous. They've finally done it, and now the rest of the field will have to deal with it. The Saints have rewritten the narrative of their franchise, and continue to do so every week.
Prepare your best shot, Seattle. The Saints are coming, and they're bringing Gatorade, Popeye's Chicken, and a whole lot of house money.