Saints advance to host NFC Championship game

Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas flexes after capping off a record breaking 11:29 drive with a go-ahead touchdown reception, giving the Saints a 17-14 lead late in the third quarter. Photo by: Chris Taylor

Story by Wyatt Vaughn, senior at Holy Cross School; photographs by Chris Taylor, sophomore at East St. John STEM Magnet School and Phillip Petty III, sophomore at St. Augustine High School; Mentored by Nick Boulet

It was a cold Sunday afternoon in New Orleans. The divisional round of the NFL playoffs was the occasion. The day that has haunted this city for exactly 364 days. But on this day, the Saints would not be stopped, as they erased an early 14-point deficit to advance to the NFC championship for the first time since 2009.

At this time last year the Saints were preparing for their first divisional playoff game in four years. They were getting their minds right for what ended up being the best game of the entire playoffs. Unfortunately, the Saints came up just short in that game. To be exact, 11 seconds short, of a chance to play in the NFC championship game. But that moment was more important than they will ever know, as it was the fire that lit them to do better. Without that game they wouldn’t have had the guts to win this game against the Eagles. They had the experience against the greatest adversity a team can face, so when they went down 14-0 on Sunday, they didn’t even blink. The Saints led by their veteran quarterback, Drew Brees, stayed the course and played their football, and in the end it paid off. And this game was extremely similar to last year’s game against the Vikings. In both games the Saints go down by two possessions and it looks bleak early on. But as the game progresses the Saints begin to pick apart the opponent and begin to suffocate them. The only difference is, against the Vikings they got too comfortable, something you can never afford to be in the NFL playoffs. But once they had taken control against the Eagles, they continued to choke out the defending champions. And the reason they were able to do that is because they knew that even when the game was fully in hand they could never break focus, because if they did, they would risk losing to a team they shouldn’t have, yet again.

Coming into the game, most football pundits picked the Saints simply because they have the better roster and were at home. But the analysts that didn’t pick the Saints mostly picked the Eagles because they have some sort of magic around them. Because for the second year in a row, Nick Foles, a backup quarterback, has transformed their season. And to start the game it looked as if that Philly magic was going to get the Eagles past the Saints and in the NFC championship for the second year in a row. But the New Orleans Saints proved to everyone why they are the #1 seed and a favorite to win the Superbowl. After giving up two early touchdowns, Marshon Lattimore may have saved the Saints season with one huge play. Early in the second quarter with the Eagles looking to go up 21-0, Lattimore picked off Nick Foles to give the Saints their first turnover in three weeks. Not only did it give the Saints the ball back, but it got the crowd back into the game for the first time since the inception of the game. And after that, the Saints took over the football game. Drew Brees began to once more look like the MVP contender that he is, and the Saints defense looked like one of the best in the entire league. After the end of the 1st quarter, the defense surrendered less than 150 yards and didn’t allow the Eagles to score at all. And how fitting was it that the man who began the Saints comeback from 14 points down, Marshon Lattimore, would be the same guy who iced the game with the game sealing interception? For the Saints, after 364 days of waiting, they finally redeemed themselves from a heartbreaking loss last season. And the victory came down to the same thing in the end, one drive by the opposing team’s offense to win the game. We all know how it ended last year, but this season, the Saints defense held steady and was ready for the pressure in the biggest moments.

The Saints will return to action next Sunday, January 20th in the NFC championship against the Los Angeles Rams in the Mercedes Benz Superdome at 2:05 pm Central time.