Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Last-second FG blessing for Saints

Now face Seattle after edging Eagles in Philadelphia

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PHILADELPHIA -- The New Orleans Saints finally came up with the right plan for outdoor playoff football in cold weather. It got them their first post-season road victory.

Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal, the fourth of the game for the recent addition to the team, won it on the final play, 26-24 over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night. Drew Brees, who threw for a touchdown and guided the 34-yard drive to the winning kick, didn't need to be a big star because the Saints' running game and defence -- along with Graham's leg -- provided the heroics.

"It's just, man, believing in each other, ignoring what everyone else has to say," Brees said.

New Orleans had been 0-5 in post-season games outside of the Big Easy since entering the league in 1967.

The Saints (12-5) will play at NFC top-seed Seattle next Saturday; they lost there 34-7 in the regular season.

"It's loud, it's crazy, they've got a good thing going there," Brees said of the next challenge.

Graham, signed by the Saints just over two weeks ago to replace long-time kicker Garrett Hartley, also connected from 36, 46 and 35 yards.

Brees threw for a touchdown, Mark Ingram rushed for 97 yards and another score, and the Saints' defence slowed Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense just enough.

Philadelphia wound up 10-7 in Kelly's first year as coach. He guided them from worst to first in the NFC East, but they were only 4-5 at home.

Nick Foles hit rookie Zach Ertz for a 3-yard touchdown with 4:54 remaining as Philadelphia rallied from a 13-point deficit to take a one-point lead.

But Darren Sproles had a 39-yard kickoff return and a horse-collar tackle brought New Orleans to the Philadelphia 48. Using mostly runs, the Saints ate up the clock and set up Graham's winner.

"We know what we're all about," he said. "This was a great testament to that. Coming on the road, hostile environment, great team, one of the hottest teams in football and getting one of those big victories."

Two teams with prolific offences couldn't get on track for much of the wild-card game.

Graham's 46-yarder as the first half ended made it 7-6 as everyone wondered where all the offensive fireworks went. The teams combined for an average of 816.7 yards and 53.5 points per game during the regular season.

When Riley Cooper, who earlier scored Philadelphia's first touchdown, had a huge drop in the third quarter, the Saints immediately made Philly pay. A 66-yard drive highlighted by Benjamin Watson's 27-yard reception led to Ingram's TD from the 4 for a 20-7 lead.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 5, 2014 B6

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