That’s it from me
Thanks for reading and for your tweets and emails. Don’t forget to check back again tomorrow, when we’ll have live blogs of both the remaining two Wildcard games. If they’re as good as today’s have been, then we should be in for a treat.
It might not have been quite as dramatic as the Colts’ win over the Chiefs …
… but on any other day you would call that a thrilling climax to an intense playoff game. Neither of New Orleans nor Philadelphia really lived up to their reputations for explosive offensive football – and perhaps the frosty conditions were a factor here – but they played hard right to the end of a see-saw fourth quarter in which each team had thought the victory was in their grasp long before Shayne Graham’s game-winning kick.
Both teams, furthermore, can take positives away from this game. Philadelphia might have lost, but this is still just a starting point for Chip Kelly’s team, not an ending. They will be back next year, and stronger for knowing from the outset that Nick Foles is their starting quarterback. As for New Orleans, they have cleared a major psychological hurdle by proving that they can win an elimination game on the road. But the road ahead of them is not an easy one. Next up will be a trip to Seattle to face a Seahawks team that beat them 34-7 one month ago. Still, it’s better to be in than out. New Orleans live to fight another week, and in the end, that is all that really matters.
IT’S GOOD! THE SAINTS BEAT THE EAGLES, 26-24!
And Graham does it – splitting the uprights nervelessly to win the game for New Orleans. The silence at the Linc is deafening. Chip Kelly’s first season as Eagles head coach ends with an NFC East title, but also a first-round playoff defeat. The Saints win their first-ever road playoff game.
Saints 23-24 Eagles, 0:03, 4th quarter
32-yard attempt. Here we go.
Saints 23-24 Eagles, 0:29, 4th quarter
More Robinson runs, another Brees sneak, and now another first down for New Orleans. They’re at the Philadelphia 14 and just used their second time-out. Just a question of moving the ball to a central position and letting Graham take his shot now.
Saints 23-24 Eagles, 1:44, 4th quarter
We're basically just waiting to see if Shayne Graham will choke. Trust me, he can.— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) January 5, 2014
Two-minute warning: Saints 23-24 Eagles
New Orleans are managing this just right, nudging the ball into field goal range while chewing as much time off the clock as they can. Robinson picks up one first down, showing surprising strength as he dragged tacklers with him on a 13-yard carry, before Drew Brees gets the next one on a quarterback sneak. They will have first down at the Philadelphia 24 after the TV time-out, and the Eagles only have one time-out left.
Saints 23-24 Eagles, 4:44, 4th quarter
The Saints certainly have time here to respond, and in fact they might need so slow things down themselves after moving immediately up to the 48-yard line on a nice Darren Sproles kick return that had an additional 15 yards tacked on the end for a horsecollar tackle.
TOUCHDOWN! Saints 23-24 Eagles, 4:54, 4th quarter
Keenan Lewis is a good football player, but did anyone seriously expect the Saints to miss him *this* much? DeSean Jackson was a non-factor while the cornerback was on the field, but now that he is gone, Foles has no hesitation in airing the ball out for his No1 receiver. And he doesn’t even need to get the ball in Jackson’s hands to do damage. The mere threat is enough to draw Corey White into a hideously blatant pass interference call – setting the Eagles up with first-and-goal at the three-yard line. From there, it takes them just two plays to find a way into the end zone, as the quarterback hits Zach Ertz on an improvised side-arm pass after it had appeared that he might try to run it in on a bootleg. After trailing by 13 points earlier in this half, Philly have their noses in front.
Saints 23-17 Eagles, 6:32, 4th quarter
The Eagles are across midfield already, but are they moving too quickly? Score a touchdown too soon, and you leave Drew Brees with time to respond.
Saints 23-17 Eagles, 7:59, 4th quarter
The Eagles will start their next drive at their own 23 after a short return from Smith. Unrelated: that new Big Mac ad they keep showing on NBC is really quite odd.
Field goal! Saints 23-17 Eagles, 8:04, 4th quarter
But the Saints have to settle for another kick, Brees underthrowing Lance Moore by a very long way as he rolled out to his right on third-and-four. We’re all set up for a grandstand finish here at the Linc, although however it shakes out is still going to feel tame in comparison to today’s first game.
Saints 20-17 Eagles, 9:23, 4th quarter
Well that’s a pretty good way to answer. On the third play of New Orleans’s new possession, Drew Brees slings a 40-yard pass over the middle of the field to Robert Meachem in single coverage. The receiver brings it in at the Philadelphia 23. The Saints had steered clear for the deep ball for much of this game after those two early interceptions for Brees, but you knew it was likely to reappear sooner or later. Sean Payton got the timing just right.
Field goal! Saints 20-17 Eagles, 11:14, 4th quarter
The Eagles have to settle for three this time around, McCoy tackled a yard or two shy of the marker on a third-down pass from Foles. Still, that’s 10 unanswered points, and more importantly a psychological advantage gained. Philly believe they can move the ball right now in a way that they haven’t been able to do for most of the game. The Saints need to respond.
Saints 20-14 Eagles, 12:43, 4th quarter
Strange how much of a difference one player’s absence can make. Or perhaps this is not really about Lewis at all, but merely a subtle shift in play-calling and confidence that has altered the dynamic of the game. One way or another, the Eagles are now soaring – Jackson returning Morstead’s punt to the New Orleans 40 before a pair of completions from Foles to Cooper move the Eagles into the red zone.
Updated at 10.53pm ET
End of 3rd quarter: Saints 20-14 Eagles
The quarter comes to an end with the Saints facing third-and-11 at their own 19-yard line, following a holding call that backed them up on second down. Keenan Lewis, meanwhile, has been led down to the locker room for further tests, despite protesting at trainers that he wanted to go back into the game. He appears to have suffered a head injury, and NFL teams are no longer allowed to take those lightly – which is as it should be. But his injury is a huge blow to the Saints at an absolutely critical point in this game.
TOUCHDOWN! Saints 20-14 Eagles
Yup. Two plays after Lewis leaves the field, Foles launches a deep ball down the right sideline for Jackson, who reels it in for a 40-yard gain. Another four plays later, LeSean McCoy forces his way into the end zone, surging through the middle of the line on fourth-and-goal at the one. It was a gutsy call from Kelly to go for it there rather than taking the easy field goal, but also an important one. A kick would have felt too much like a missed opportunity. The touchdown puts this game back in the balance, right at the moment when it seemed like New Orleans might be ready to steal it away.
Saints 20-7 Eagles, 3:48, 3rd quarter
Trouble here for the Saints, as Keenan Lewis stays down hurt after a big (clean) hit on Jason Avant – which caused the receiver to drop a pass from Foles by the sideline. The cornerback has spent most of today covering DeSean Jackson, and has thus far succeeded in completely shutting the receiver down. If he has to leave the game now, it could open things up for Philly downfield.
TOUCHDOWN! Saints 20-7 Eagles, 3:48, 3rd quarter
Make that 91 yards on 15 carries for Ingram. Oh, and a touchdown, too, as the running back slips through a gap on the right side of the line and steps into the end zone. All of a sudden, the Saints have a two score lead. Time is slipping away quickly from Chip Kelly and the Eagles, but this team was designed to strike fast…
Saints 13-7 Eagles, 4:22, 3rd quarter
The Saints are driving again, and while Drew Brees has done his part, it’s the running back Mark Ingram who is putting this team on his shoulders, picking up the tough yards to keep this drive going. He has 13 carries for 83 yards so far in this game – a stark comparison with LeSean McCoy’s 38 yards on 12 carries for Philadelphia. Second-and-1 for the Saints at the Philadelphia eight-yard line.
Saints 13-7 Eagles, 8:46, 3rd quarter
If the Eagles lose this game, then this play is going to haunt Riley Cooper’s nightmares for a very long time indeed. Philadelphia had the perfect call in, a neat little pick play in which the receiver ran a delayed drag route across the middle of the field after his team-mates had cleared out the secondary by tearing away downfield. Foles put the ball right on Cooper’s hands, and the receiver had nothing but open field ahead of him, but somehow he contrived to drop the ball. If he had caught it, he might have taken it for a 70-yard touchdown. Instead, his failure to do so brought up fourth down, and the Eagles, yet again, had to punt. The Saints will take over on their own 34.
Saints 13-7 Eagles, 8:59, 3rd quarter
I know we’re supposed to be focusing on the game in progress, but this stat just popped up on my Twitter timeline, and needs sharing:
Injuries to running backs notwithstanding, that is still some pretty outlandish play-calling from Andy Reid.
TOUCHDOWN! Saints 13-7 Eagles, 10:08, 3rd quarter
And there, at last, is the New Orleans offense, coming to life on a six-play, 53-yard drive which ended with Lance Moore strutting into the end zone after Brees checked down to him on a crossing route. Despite Philly’s three-and-out, this game might just be starting to build up a little offensive momentum.
Saints 6-7 Eagles, 13:42, 3rd quarter
New half, same old story. The Eagles go three-and-out, an intentional grounding penalty against Foles putting them in a hole from which they cannot escape. And the Saints will start their next drive with good field position, after Sproles returns the punt to the New Orleans 47-yard line.
Off we go again, Brad Smith taking Thomas Morstead’s kickoff out to the Philadelphia 25. So, what does each team need to do in this half? Can Brees do better, or is he doomed to fail in the cold? Will McCoy finally start to wear down this Saints defense? Let me know what you think by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Paolo_Bandini
And speaking of that Chiefs-Colts game, here’s reader Michael Aston:
Still reeling from the Chiefs's loss. Who'd have thought they would lose both running backs? One thing about this game I don't like, injuries… too many, too often.
Indeed, Michael, it is the nature of the sport, but Kansas City were especially unfortunate today. And while it is hard to make excuses for a 28-point collapse, you do have to wonder whether the Chiefs might have managed that game better with Jamaal Charles available to keep the chains – and the clock – moving in the second half.
Updated at 9.50pm ET
Field goal! Saints 6-7 Eagles – end of half
Shayne Graham’s 46-yard kick sneaks just inside the right-hand upright, making this a one-point ball-game at the half. A subdued start at the Linc, and with temperatures set to drop even further in the second half, both teams will have to fight even harder to get things going after the interval. Still, if the Colts-Chiefs game taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t just a game from its first two quarters...
Updated at 10.16pm ET
Saints 3-7 Eagles, 0:03, 2nd quarter
Field goal attempt coming up for the Saints, who drove quickly across midfield but ran out of steam near the Eagles’ 30-yard line. Brees was nearly picked off for a third time as he tried to force the ball to Jimmy Graham in double coverage as the tight end drove towards the end zone. The quarterback had at least one wide open receiver on the play, but given how many of those balls Graham has caught this year, you probably can’t blame him for trying.
TOUCHDOWN! Saints 3-7 Eagles
Well it’s about time. And Nick Foles had plenty of that on third-and-nine, as he dropped back in the pocket, set up a deckchair, started a fire, lit up a pipe and sat down to read the complete works of Philip M Parker, before remembering that he was in the middle of a football game and that – even though the Saints’ pass rush probably still was not going to reach him for another hour or two – he might as well chuck the ball to Riley Cooper in the end zone.
Two-minute warning: Saints 3-0 Eagles
Philadelphia are in position to convert that turnover into points, looking forward to second-and-nine at the New Orleans 10 yard line after a pair of quick completions from Foles and a well-executed sweep around left end from McCoy.
Interception! Saints 3-0 Eagles, 4:12, 2nd quarter
Oh Drew. A second interception of the day for Brees, who is doing little to disprove the notion that he is a completely different quarterback when removed from the Louisiana Superdome. DeMeco Ryans steps in front of a pass that was intended for Lance Moore and returns it to the New Orleans 44 – ending a promising drive for the Saints – who had crossed midfield with some nice running from Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson.
Saints 3-0 Eagles, 7:21, 2nd quarter
Three-and-out again for the Eagles. They cannot seem to get the running game going at all today – McCoy has just 25 yards on nine carries – and the quick passing game isn’t doing much better. Nick Foles has been relatively efficient, completing nine of 13 attempts so far, but only for 61 yards. Are the cold conditions slowing both teams down? Perhaps, but first and foremost I’d have to say that Rob Ryan’s defense is doing a great job of keeping everything in front of them and denying the Eagles the sort of big plays that they have used to win games all season.
Field goal! Saints 3-0 Eagles, 8:37, 2nd quarter
Points! At last some points, as Shayne Graham converts from 36 yards. Just 86 more required to equal that Chiefs-Colts game now. Speaking of which, my colleague Hunter Felt appears to have survived the madness of live blogging that game.
Is it just me, or are you getting a tad more time to rest your fingers this game than I did on mine @Paolo_Bandini— Hunter Felt (@HunterFelt) January 5, 2014
How are you typing? Did the trainers not tell you to get those hands in the ice bath?
Saints 0-0 Eagles, 8:41, 2nd quarter
… and they make it, Drew Brees picking up more than he needs on a quarterback sneak … before that play is also wiped out by a false start penalty. Ugh.
Call reversed! Saints 0-0 Eagles, 8:59, 2nd quarter
It looked to me on the replays like Graham’s knee was down before the ball was jarred loose from his hands, and it seems that the officials agree. The call on the field is overturned, and the Saints will have fourth-and-inches at the Philadelphia 14. Looks like they’re going to go for it …
Fumble? Saints 0-0 Eagles, 8:59, 2nd quarter
Just when the Saints seemed to be getting somewhere, they turn the ball over, tight end Jimmy Graham losing control of the ball as he reached out for the first-down marker on a third-and-seven grab. The play will be reviewed, however – this call could yet be reversed.
Updated at 9.10pm ET
Saints 0-0 Eagles, 10:32, 2nd quarter
New Orleans are taking a little bit of the pressure off Drew Brees here, putting the ball in the hands of their running backs instead on a slow and methodical drive down the field. With Pierre Thomas out injured, Mark Ingram has been getting the majority of the carries so far.
Missed field goal! Saints 0-0 Eagles
Yup. McCoy takes the ball around right end for four yards to set up a 48-yard attempt for Alex Henery, but he hooks it wide to the left. Still no points here, and even some former pros are beginning to get antsy.
This saints eagles game is in slow motion compared to the colts chiefs game. #fundamentals— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) January 5, 2014
End of first quarter: Saints 0-0 Eagles
Nope. On first down, Foles’s attempted screen pass to Brent Celek is effectively sniffed out by the Saints’ defense, who tackle the tight end for an eight-yard loss. Then, on second-and-18, Foles is sacked – taking his team all the way back to the New Orleans 34. They might not even be in field goal range any more. It’s not easy to kick well in frigid conditions – and the temperature before kickoff was just shade over 20F.
Updated at 8.57pm ET
Saints 0-0 Eagles, 1:00, 1st quarter
The Eagles go for it anyway, and McCoy slips through a gap and down to the Saints’ 15-yard line. Time yet for points before the end of this quarter?
Saints 0-0 Eagles, 1:31, 1st quarter
Boos at the Linc, as Eagles fans vent their rage at Saints defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who stayed down injured after LeSean McCoy’s run up the gut on third down. It appeared as though Philadelphia were going to attempt to catch their opponents off-guard by going for it on fourth down, but the injury – real or otherwise – prevented them from doing so.
Interception! Saints 0-0 Eagles, 4:51, 1st quarter
Many words have been expended this week on the subject of Drew Brees’s diminished performance in outdoor stadiums, but the quarterback was not so much the man at fault on this particular pick. After isolating Kenny Stills in one-on-one coverage, the quarterback launched a long ball for his rookie wide receiver down the right sideline. Stills had decent position on Bradley Fletcher, but misread the flight of the ball and angled his run inside at the last moment. The ball flew over his head and straight into the hands of the defender, who returned it to the Philadelphia 27. The net result was not all that much different to a punt, in the end, but we’ll take what we can get.
Saints 0-0 Eagles, 7:12, 1st quarter
And now the Eagles are at it too! Three plays, six yards, and punt the ball right back. At least they mitigated things slightly with a hilariously botched punt coverage. Philadelphia seemed to be in position to down the ball inside the New Orleans three-yard line, before a member of their coverage team rushed in and accidentally kicked a near stationary ball into the end zone for a touchback.
Updated at 10.17pm ET
Saints 0-0 Eagles, 8:32, 1st quarter
Well this just will not do. The Saints go three-and-out, and six-and-a-half minutes into this game we have three punts and no points. Ordinarily that might be fair enough, but after this afternoon’s entertainment, not so much. It’s like following up an appetiser of sherbert and ice cream with a main course of salad with no dressing.
Updated at 10.17pm ET
Saints 0-0 Eagles, 9:51, 1st quarter
The Eagles' first drive also ends in a punt, Jones booting the ball all the way down to the New Orleans 16-yard line with the help of a kind bounce. The Eagles had picked up a single first down through the air from Nick Foles to Zack Ertz, but could get no further than that – the quarterback unable to get the ball into the hands of McCoy two plays later on third-down. Meantime, I have my first reader tweet of the day:
@Paolo_Bandini I love the saints but a win would send them to seattle for the inevitable...— South America Tips (@SudAmericaTips) January 5, 2014
After that Chiefs-Colts game, I'm not sure I'm prepared to say anything is inevitable in the NFL any more.
Saints 0-0 Eagles, 12:13, 1st quarter
New Orleans's first possession comes to an end with a false start penalty on a fourth-down hard count that was intended to draw their opponents offside. You can blame the patented Drew Brees head bob for that one. After the punt, Philly will take over at their own 16.
Saints 0-0 Eagles, 13:09, 1st quarter
A free time-out for New Orleans, who looked set to incur a delay of game penalty before officials stopped the clock due to "debris" (it looked like tape) on the field. Drew Brees looks decidedly unimpressed, but at least he can take solace from knowing that his Westlake High haircut was far more sensible than that of his opponent.
This is the 1st time that QBs from the same high school (Westlake High) have faced off in a playoff game since 1974. pic.twitter.com/SgvIlatRxn— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 5, 2014
Away we go!
Sproles takes the opening kickoff out to about the 25-yard line for New Orleans, and this year's second playoff game is officially underway.
It’s not all about quarterbacks
In amongst all the talk about Brees and Foles, at least one Eagles player has been getting far too little attention coming into this game. LeSean McCoy produced more combined rushing and receiving yards than any other player in the NFL this season. Were it not for the record-setting brilliance of Peyton Manning, he might have been in contention for the league’s Most Valuable Player award. As it is, he’ll just have to settle for his own title belt.
Incredible scenes in Indianapolis, where the Colts have now completed a 28-point comeback to beat the Chiefs. That’s Kansas City’s eighth consecutive postseason defeat. And almost certainly the most painful. Read all about it on Hunter Felt’s live blog.
Having fun yet? Three hours into the 2014 NFL playoffs, and we’ve already seen 89 points scored as the Colts come back from a four-touchdown deficit against the Chiefs. Oh, and by the way, that game is still going. You can follow the closing moments of the Indianapolis-Kansas City game with Hunter Felt right here.
And when that's all done, we have the small matter of a match-up between two of the most explosive offenses in the league. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards this year – the fourth time in his career that he has achieved such a feat. Nobody else has ever done it more than once. But Philly’s own passing game has also been pretty prolific since Nick Foles was named as the starter. He has a scarcely credible touchdown/interception ratio of 27:2, and the best passer rating in the league (119.2) among players who have thrown the ball more than 15 times.
As fate would have it, both of those players attended the same high school – Westlake High in Austin, Texas. A decade after Brees had led the Chaparrals to a state championship, Foles arrived to break most of his predecessors individual passing records, but never quite managed to steer them to another Texas title.
This is the first time that the pair have faced off on the field, and only the second time in NFL history that two quarterbacks who attended the same high school have gone head-to-head in a playoff game. But of course this match-up is also about much more than Brees and Foles. It is the culmination of an incredible first season for the Eagles under Chip Kelly. It is another chance for the Saints to prove that they can indeed win an playoff game on the road –something that this franchise has never done in five attempts.
So, who will prevail? And what are you looking forward to seeing out there? Drop me a line on email@example.com now and throughout the game; I’ll be including a selection of your messages here in the live blog. You can also send me a Tweet @Paolo_Bandini, if that sounds easier.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk