Saints impose will on 18-play 'championship drive'

NEW ORLEANS -- The NFL postseason produces examples of game-defining drives, which have become legendary.

There is "The Drive" or "The Ice Bowl" or Joe Montana to John Taylor, as examples, and the New Orleans Saints can now add a series that should garner attention for years.

Down 14-10 early in the third quarter, the Saints put together an 18-play, 92-yard masterpiece that consumed an eye-popping 11:29 off the clock to produce what eventually became the game-winning touchdown in a 20-14 win Sunday over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Divisional Round.

"That was tough, but we're built for it," left tackle Terron Armstead told "That was a championship drive."

After battling back from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit, the tide of the game clearly turned in the Saints' favor in the third quarter. And though the series of plays may be worthy of a nickname or a place in NFL lore, the drive featured a lot of ups and downs.

The Saints were penalized three times, including two holding infractions and one committed by left guard Andrus Peat which negated a touchdown, while the Eagles were penalized once.

New Orleans also faced two second-and-20 plays, but still converted first downs, including one after facing a third-and-16 when quarterback Drew Brees connected with wide receiver Michael Thomas for 20 yards to move to the Eagles' 12-yard line.

Including the four penalties, both teams were on the field for an unofficial 22 plays.

"I was just told we gained 117 yards on that drive," Brees said in his postgame news conference. "I'm not sure if that's a record because of the penalties that kept setting us back. We went on an 117-yard drive to take the lead in the third quarter and really didn't look back. That was the turning point in the game."

Brees is correct, of course, as the Eagles blinked and never recovered, and the Saints would add a field goal to go up 20-14 in the fourth quarter.

But it was the third quarter when the Saints essentially announced they were taking the game after seeing the Eagles' defenders tiring.

"You can definitely feel it," right guard Larry Warford said. "I mean, I felt it. I was getting tired myself. But when you start getting that momentum, those types of drives, you smell that vulnerability. You can smell that they're getting tired. You can see it, you can feel it."

Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, who watched his offensive teammates in amazement from the sidelines, agreed emphatically.

"We knew that we had our foot on their neck basically, metaphorically speaking," Davison said. "When the offense does something like that and we had a few stops on our side of the ball, it leaves the other team feeling like there's nothing they can do.

"So, yeah, when we saw that, it was just reminiscent of what the offense has been doing all year, letting us rest on the sideline while they have an 11-minute, 22-play drive. That was great for the defense."

The Saints capped off the soul-crushing drive when Thomas hauled in a 2-yard touchdown pass from Brees.

And after the game, the All-Pro wide receiver gave out plenty of credit to teammates for not faltering after the early deficit and using the third-quarter drive to take control of the game.

"That's a testament to the guys we have, the execution we play with, the leader we have behind center, the offensive line," said Thomas, who finished the game with 12 catches for 171 yards and the score on 16 targets. "People don't just come in and do those type of things and just impose their will on teams and drive the ball down. And that's what we did."

The win sets up a rematch for the Saints against the Los Angeles Rams in next weekend's NFC Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. The Saints defeated the Rams 45-35 in Week 9 of the regular season.

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