For the first fifteen minutes of the Saints-Eagles game it seemed Les Miserables had moved from the Saenger to the Superdome.
The Saints gave up two touchdowns and a turnover on the first play and on their first two possessions gained a grand total of 0 yards.
Their third possession was only marginally better at least achieving a positive integer in yards before the team had to punt after quarterback Drew Brees fumbled.
It was the ugliest quarter of football in the Sean Payton era as the team that had previously demolished the defending world champs had to climb their way out of a deep hole they had dug themselves into early.
Fortunately the offense finally shook off the rust of what was essentially a two week break, once again sparked by the Black and Gold’s human Swiss Army Knife Taysom Hill, who plowed over an Eagle defensive lineman on a fake punt to pick up a critical first down deep in the Saints’ own territory.
Drew Brees and Mike Thomas did their thing, connecting on 171 yards (accounting for 57% of Brees’s passing yards) while Tre’Quan Smith and Keith Kirkwood made the most of their limited targets, the latter on a key fourth down end zone reception.
The defense stepped up, not allowing the Eagles to score in the final three quarters.
The Saints’ defense short-circuited two Philly drives courtesy of a pair of Marshon Lattimore interceptions.
However, dumb penalties need to stop. Someone needs to hug guard Andrus Peat so he’ll stop clinging on to defensive linemen at ten-yard-penalty pops. As do sloppy mental errors such as calling a time out to get a play right and then still botching it.
And reckless decisions such as trotting out kicker Will Lutz- who seemed off this game- to make a 50+ yard field goal when missing gave the Eagles a favorable field position.
Lutz was not making that kick and the team would’ve been better off trying to make a first down and thus killing the Eagles with the clock.
This Sunday the Saints will host their second NFC Championship game against a team they defeated earlier in the season, a win that resulted in New Orleans clinching the top seed in the conference.
And while the road to the Super Bowl still goes through New Orleans, the Saints will be without their bull rushing DT Sheldon Rankins who suffered an ACL tear and is out for the remainder of the postseason.
Payton has to call a better game against the well-balanced Rams, who are the most complete team in the league.
Rankins’ replacement will have to step up to provide the push up the middle to provide sack opportunities for defensive ends Cam Jordan, Alex Okafor and Marcus Davenport.
Rankins’s departure had an impact on the defense as the sack happy Saints did not tally a single takedown of quarterback Nick Foles.
Of the four teams still standing the Saints look the weakest and somehow they need to figure out a way to get back into their mid-season blowout form.
Prior to the game, former Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco was honored by the Saints organization for her efforts to rebuild the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, dedicating the lobby of the stadium in her honor.
The tribute was both appropriate and in some ways ironic.
Prior to Katrina, then-Governor Blanco had what could be described as a stormy relationship with then-Saints owner Tom Benson over state incentive packages to keep the NFL franchise in Louisiana.
Blanco has been battling ocular melanoma for the past eight years.
In December 2017, the state’s first female governor penned a farewell letter to the people of Louisiana that was published in the state’s newspapers.