Monday, January 6, 2014

New Orleans Saints 26 at Philadelphia Eagles 24 (NFC Wild Card Playoff) - January 4, 2014


Well, my NFL Road Trip has ended but I'm still going to see the playoff games that happen to take place near New York City, which essentially means Philadelphia and New England. When the Eagles won the NFC East, they grabbed the 3rd seed in the conference and won the right to host New Orleans on Saturday night. Most people predicted an Eagles win, but a rookie coach and 2nd-year QB against Brees and Payton? The Saints 0-5 record as a road playoff team didn't worry me that much; those records are mostly with different players and are generally given too much importance.

After enjoying a college basketball game at St. Joseph's that afternoon, I arrived at the Sports Complex just as Kansas City and Indy were getting underway and headed to the Holiday Inn's Stadium Bar to watch that game. My friends Gary and Andrew joined me for a pre-game meal as Kansas City built their big lead. Gary had a ticket already so he left early to enter the stadium, but Andrew and I needed to find our own way in, so we stayed for a bit longer, expecting prices to drop as game time approached. We left the bar a few plays after Andrew Luck's amazingly lucky touchdown, arriving at the stadium 10 minutes later to see the Colts up by a point with time expiring. Oh well, you can't see everything.

Anyway, there were some people with extra tickets, but none of them were willing to come down in price despite game time rapidly approaching. With the national anthem playing inside, we were able to find a guy with two hard tickets (nearly every ticket issued was a paper ticket, anathema to those looking to purchase on the street as they are easy to fake and not good souvenirs) which we purchased after some quick negotiations. He told us they were club seats, which is what happened to me in Atlanta as well (again with the Saints the visitors). Not bothering to double check his claim, we rushed into the club section (avoiding the long lineups at other gates), gaining admittance when the ticket was scanned and heading up the escalator to our seats. Of course, we didn't have seats there and were politely told that we should be on the other side of the stadium.



We turned around to leave but Andrew spotted a path that took us into the club without being spotted. We entered the seating bowl and soon found a couple of seats that were not sold to the general public as they had obstructed views. With everyone standing, it was no problem spending the game here, so we did (view below). It wasn't nearly as cold as Green Bay, but it was still nice to pop into the club (above) at halftime to warm up a bit.



Game time temperature was 25 degrees, but that didn't stop Drew Brees or Nick Foles from coming out sleeveless. It did stop them from doing much in the first quarter though as both teams had trouble moving the ball resulting in four punts to start the contest.



On the Saints third possession, Brees tossed one up that Bradley Fletcher intercepted. The Eagles drove the ball 58 yards but a pass to Brent Celek was stopped 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage and then an 11-yard sack pushed Philadelphia even further back. After a short run to get a bit closer, Alex Henery missed a 48-yard field goal. Looking at the final score, those two plays for loss that ended the first quarter were huge but soon forgotten.



The Saints took the ball on their next drive and drove to the Philadelphia 14. On 4th-and-1, they went for it but a false start penalty pushed them back, and Shayne Graham, signed just a few weeks ago after Garrett Hartley was cut, kicked a field goal to open the scoring. After Philly went 3-and-out again, Brees threw his second pick of the night with DeMeco Ryans returning it to the Saints' 44. Six plays later, Foles found Riley Cooper in the end zone and the Eagles had the lead with just 1:48 to go in the half. As is the case these days though, that was more than enough time for Brees to get the Saints close enough for another field goal and the intermission came with the home team up 7-6.



The third quarter was a scorefest in comparison, with the Saints getting a touchdown pass to Lance Moore to regain the lead, and then a 4-yard run from Mark Ingram to make it 20-7 as Sean Payton eschewed the 2-point conversion. That's Ingram scoring above, he is completely covered by the defense but forced his way through.



The Eagles were down but not out and they moved the ball well in the other direction, with LeSean McCoy (#25 above) busting home from a yard out to get back within 20-14 as the fourth quarter began.



The teams traded field goals and then the Eagles began the final drive of their season, down 23-17 with 8 minutes to go. Running the no huddle, they moved the ball 34 yards on 6 plays before Foles tried a deep ball to DeSean Jackson. Corey White, a backup DB who had replaced an injured Keenan Lewis, mugged Jackson, resulting in a 40-yard pass interference penalty. Two plays later, Foles found Zac Ertz for the go-ahead touchdown (above) with 4:54 left. In hindsight, that penalty was the best thing for New Orleans as Philly scored with plenty of clock left for the Saints, who had run for 143 yards up to that point, to work a bit of magic, and they did just that. Running seemingly at will, they moved the ball down to the 14, forcing the Eagles to use their final timeouts in the process. Brees ran the last two plays to set up the field goal and the Saints let the clock wind down until just 3 seconds were left. Graham came on and made no mistake, sending the Saints to Seattle and the Eagles home.



Although the final result was dissatisfying for Eagles fans, they have to be excited for the future with Kelly and Foles leading Jackson and McCoy to better things. Look for this team to be in the conversation for the next few years.

Notes

After the game we waited out the crowd in the club section. When we finally left, the stadium was empty, a sad sight as you can see below. See you next season Linc.



Next Up

I'll be traveling to Boston this weekend to see the Colts and Patriots on Saturday and then add two more venues to my Club 122 list as the Rockets visit the Celtics and the Leafs take on the Bruins. Check back next week for a recap of that.

Best,

Sean

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