NEW ORLEANS — When the New Orleans Saints finally found their rhythm, they marched one step closer to the Super Bowl.
Using a dominant ball-control offense and a few gambles that paid off, the Saints got two touchdown passes from Drew Brees and two interceptions from Marcus Lattimore in a 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Brees took the Saints on scoring drives of 92, 79 and 67 yards after falling behind 14-0. Lattimore clinched it when Nick Foles’ pass from the Saints 27 deflected off usually sure-handed receiver Alshon Jeffery with about two minutes remaining. A couple dozen Saints players surged off the sideline toward the end zone in celebration, while Jeffery fell face-first to the turf in agony.
“We were real calm and poised and we knew we were going to get things done,” Brees said.
New Orleans (14-3) will host the NFC title game next week against the Rams (13-4). Los Angeles, which fell 45-35 at the Superdome in November, will try again next week, with the winner going to the Super Bowl. The Saints’ win finished off a sweep of the divisional round by teams coming off byes.
Brees, who turns 40 Tuesday, finished 28 for 38 despite the awful start, throwing for 301 yards. Aside from All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas, who was targeted 16 times — he led the NFL with 125 catches — no one caught more than four passes for New Orleans. Alvin Kamara had four for 35 yards and also rushed for 71 yards. Mark Ingram added 53 yards on the ground as the Saints outrushed the Eagles 137-49. New Orleans is 6-0 at home in the playoffs with Payton and Brees.
The Saints next host the Rams in the early game next Sunday.
With the Chargers losing to New England, the Rams became Los Angeles’ hope for a return the Super Bowl. The Los Angeles Raiders, won Super Bowl XVIII in 1984 — the only team from L.A. to reach the championship game.
The Rams earned their trip to the NFC championship game with a 30-22 victory over the Cowboys.
“Our sense of focus and the sense of urgency have gone up tremendously,” guard Rodger Saffold said at the team’s training complex Sunday while the Rams waited to find out who they would play.
The Rams have built a reputation for cerebral, clever play during two seasons of coach Sean McVay’s influential offensive schemes. But one big difference between last season’s team, which lost its first playoff game, and this season’s NFC championship-bound squad is the Rams’ provocative new defensive players, led by Peters and fellow cornerback Aqib Talib, along with a team-wide embrace of physical, disruptive play.
The Rams know they’ll have to be tough again when they visit New Orleans for the third time this season, counting a preseason trip to the Big Easy. Los Angeles took its first loss of the year at the Superdome on Nov. 4.
“I think we match up really well (with the Saints),” Saffold said. “I think we’ll have a better plan against them on the second go-round.”
The Rams are in their first NFC title game in 17 years because of their physical attitude in the way they manhandled the Cowboys on both sides of the line. Dallas entered the Coliseum with one of the NFL’s top rushing defenses along with their own powerful rushing offense led by NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott, yet the Rams dominated on the ground.
Los Angeles’ rushing offense was historically good, with C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley both topping 100 yards rushing on the way to a franchise-record 273. Both backs gave the credit to their offensive line, which led the Rams to average a whopping 5.7 yards per carry.
The Rams’ offensive line has been respected as one of the NFL’s best for the past two years while Gurley reigned as one of the NFL’s top running backs, yet the five linemen relished another chance to show what they could do on their biggest stage yet.
“The coaches saying they would just put it on our back and let us do our thing, that gave us a huge confidence boost and that shared sense of responsibility to just go out there and work a little bit harder on this one,” Saffold said.