Payton encouraged by Saints' playoff win
METAIRIE — With a trip to Seattle looming, the New Orleans Saints gained more confidence from the first road playoff win in franchise history than Saturday’s 26-24 margin at Philadelphia indicated.
Before kicker Shayne Graham connected on a 32-yard field goal as time ran out, the Saints dominated the Eagles statistically.
“Certainly when you watch the tape, the score could have been a lot bigger on our part,” coach Sean Payton said Sunday. “It was a great team win.”
Specifically, Payton pointed to New Orleans’ nearly 10-minute edge in time of possession, converting seven of 13 third downs compared to the Eagles’ three of 12, its 185-80 advantage in rushing yards and its 434-256 domination in total yards.
Philadelphia, which had won seven of its last eight to claim the NFC East, entered as the NFL’s leading rushing team, averaging 160.4 yards. The Saints held LeSean McCoy, who had a league-high 1,607 yards in the regular season, to 77 yards on 21 carries with a long gain of 11.
“We tackled well and pursued to the ball,” Payton said. “We really felt that was going to be important. He’s such an exceptional player and has the ability to cut back. Your angles and gap integrity have to be really good because it might start out going right, then all of a sudden, it ends up all the way around the left end.”
Conversely, New Orleans ran right at a Philadelphia defense that had limited five consecutive opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards. The Saints’ number of carries (36) and yards were higher than in all but one regular-season game, and they rushed for 54 more yards than their second-best total.
On their final drive, Drew Brees threw one pass while the Saints ran eight times, getting three first downs to move from the Philadelphia 48 to the 14.
“We controlled both lines of scrimmage,” Payton said. “When you do that, you have a good chance of winning.”
That advantage allowed New Orleans to overcome two interceptions by Brees in the first half and become a rare team to win on the road in the playoffs while losing the turnover battle.
Trailing 7-6 at the break, New Orleans scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the third quarter.
“At halftime, to some degree, we were fortunate to be down just a point after the turnovers,” Payton said. “We felt like if we put our best football together and executed and did the things we had to do then, the result would take care of itself.”
They also took care of having to answer questions again about their winless playoff record in opposing stadiums. The Saints were 0-5 overall and 0-3 under Payton, who downplayed that statistic all week.
“It is great for the city and it’s great for our team, just momentum as we move through the playoffs,” tight end Benjamin Watson said. “To win on the road in this league is tough as we saw through the regular season. To win in a hostile environment, the cold, in Philadelphia, it brings great confidence for our team.”
They’ll need all of that confidence in Seattle, which buried the Saints 34-7 on Dec. 2 in the midst of New Orleans’ four-game road losing streak to end the regular season.
At least the Saints know what they will face next Saturday at raucous CenturyLink Field. They will try to duplicate what the New York Jets did three years ago when they won at New England in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs after losing there 45-3 a month earlier.
“When you face an opponent previously in the season, you have a better idea of what you’re going against,” New Orleans defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley said. “It helps you prepare for it a little bit better.”
NOTES: Payton offered no update on the status of CB Keenan Lewis, who left in the third quarter with a concussion, or any other player. ... The Saints will be off Monday before practicing Tuesday.