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Game Balls from the Saints exhilarating 20-14 playoff victory over the Eagles

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New Orleans responds from an early knockdown to knock out the defending champs.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints overcame the best shot from the defending champs, along with their own putrid first quarter play, to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14 and move on to host the NFC Championship game next Sunday afternoon. The Saints started aggressively, throwing a home run ball to Ted Ginn Jr. on the game's first play. Quarterback Drew Brees was short on his pass though, resulting in an interception. The Eagles then took the ball 76 yards for a touchdown, scoring on a 37 yard pass to Jordan Matthews when cornerback P.J. Williams got pathetically lost in coverage. New Orleans went three and out on their next possession, and the Eagles responded with another touchdown drive, this one for 75 yards, culminating in a 1-yd. dive by quarterback Nick Foles. The Saints finished the first quarter with less than 30 yards of total offense, zero first downs, and trailing 14-0 on the scoreboard. New Orleans would take over the game after that, seemingly getting stronger in every quarter, and are now on the way to their first NFC Championship game since the 2009 season. Here are some of the standout performers from the biggest comeback in New Orleans postseason history.

Taysom Hill

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Hill had a modest stat line: 2 rushes for 8 yards, 0-1 on pass attempts, and no receptions on 2 targets. He was responsible for perhaps the most important play of the first half though, when it looked like a struggling New Orleans offense would once again have to punt the ball away. Facing a 4th and 1 from their own 30-yd. line early in the second quarter, coach Sean Payton called for a gutsy fake punt. Hill took the direct snap and bulldozed his way for the Saints first 1st down of the game on the huge gamble. The play gave life to the entire team, resuming a drive that would end with a New Orleans touchdown on another 4th down gamble near the goal line. Hill would have added more heroics onto his day if not for the errors of two of his teammates. The Saints had the ball around midfield in the midst of what would be a 98-yd. touchdown drive. Hill broke open down the field on what looked to be a sure scoring reception, but Brees came up short on the throw, allowing the Eagles secondary to break up the pass. On the very next play, Hill completed a perfectly thrown pass down the field to Alvin Kamara for an apparent 51 yard touchdown. Unfortunately, the play was nullified by one of Saints guard Andrus Peat's seemingly dozens of penalties on the day. Hill still provided an important change of pace during the game, and his fake punt conversion pumped life back into an offense that had been dormant up to that point.

Marshon Lattimore, Eli Apple, and Vonn Bell

Divisional Round - Philadelphia Eagles v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Lattimore had 2 interceptions in the ballgame, one a crucial momentum changer and his other essentially clinching the game. Lattimore's first pick, an athletic effort to take the ball away from Zach Ertz along the sideline, halted the Philadelphia offensive momentum at a point where it seemed like the game could get out of hand. His second put an end to the final Eagle drive late in the 4th quarter with his team leading by six, snatching a ball that had gone through the hands of Philadelphia wideout Alshon Jeffery.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The performances of Bell and Apple were almost as impressive as Lattimore's game on Sunday afternoon. All 3 players had 4 tackles apiece, providing tight and aggressive coverage throughout the game, and were pivotal in breaking up some key passes. They were able to contain Philadelphia receivers Ertz, Jeffery, Golden Tate, and Nelson Agholor, holding them to a combined 137 yards receiving. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles had gotten off to a torrid first quarter start, throwing for 127 yards with just one incompletion. This Saints secondary held Foles to only 10-22 for just 74 yards over the final three quarters after that, while keeping the Eagles off the scoreboard and adding Lattimore's two interceptions.

Michael Thomas

Divisional Round - Philadelphia Eagles v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Thomas is simply taking over the Saints team receiving record book. He had 12 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, setting franchise marks for both receptions and receiving yards in a postseason game. Thomas was the only Saint that showed signs of life during an anemic offensive first quarter, and finished the first half with six receptions for 87 yards. He continued to dominate the Philadelphia secondary through the second half, highlighted by a 20-yd. reception on 3rd and 16 on an epic 92 yard march that ended with his two yard touchdown reception to give New Orleans the lead.

Drew Brees

Divisional Round - Philadelphia Eagles v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Brees finished the game with 301 yards passing and two scores, completing 28 of his 38 attempts. He was under heavy pressure from the Philadelphia defensive line all afternoon, but rebounded after an awful first quarter to have good movement in the pocket and a quick release to combat the Eagles rush. After an opening quarter where he completed just 2 of 6 passes with an interception, Brees would have 271 yards and two scores on 26 of 32 attempts through the final three quarters, including just four incompletions in 19 attempts in the second half.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints were able to re-establish their trademark offensive balance in the second half, picking up 96 of their 137 rushing yards over the final two quarters. They were 6/8 on third downs in the second half, and the 18-play, 98 yard touchdown march on their first drive of the 3rd quarter was one for the ages. Despite losing Sheldon Rankins to a devastating Achilles injury, the Saints defense had a suffocating performance after the Eagles first two drives, holding them to only 151 total yards after those first two possessions. New Orleans now host the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship next Sunday, another November rematch where the Saints won in a 45-35 thriller. The sluggish start that the Saints got off to in this divisional playoff is certainly a concern, particularly against an explosive team like the Rams. But New Orleans showed the skill and resolve of a champion in rebounding, and accomplishing the next step of a journey one year in the making.

Poll

Who had the most impressive performance in the Saints playoff comeback win over Philadelphia?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Taysom Hill
    (30 votes)
  • 67%
    Michael Thomas
    (479 votes)
  • 24%
    Marshon Lattimore
    (176 votes)
  • 0%
    Eli Apple
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Vonn Bell
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    Drew Brees
    (18 votes)
711 votes total Vote Now