The New Orleans Saints won the battle in the trenches against the Philadelphia Eagles, and it led to a road playoff game that answered a big question of their toughness.
The Saints hadn't won away from home since before Thanksgiving, and it looked like a tough chore on Saturday, going into Philly with a banged-up secondary and beating a team that had been among the NFL's hottest the past two months.
Mission accomplished. Method: toughness.
The Saints' offensive line more than held up against the Eagles' rush; for most of the game, the Saints dominated this matchup. On a night in which Drew Brees had an ugly first half and Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston were mostly quiet, the run game — mostly of the straight-ahead variety — was a warhorse. Mark Ingram had one of his finest NFL games, Darren Sproles pinballed off a lot of tackles, and Khiry Robinson was a hard-nosed closer.
After a few big pass plays in the third quarter, the Saints turned to power to close out a statement drive. Ingram for 10 tackle-breaking yards. Sproles for nine more on a screen, blasting through a few defenders. Ingram, four more yards. Then another four for the Ingram score. It was 20-7 Saints, and they left an indelible mark on the Eagles at that point.
The Saints' defensive front also had a great night against a typically strong Eagles offensive line. They seldom blitzed but frequently won one-on-one matchups to sink into the Eagles' backfield and disrupt.
This clearly is a very positive development for a team that must have its toughness put on the chopping block next week. The Seattle Seahawks will be rested, and they are confident. For good reason, too: Not only are they just confident in general, but they dominated the Saints just over a month ago in Seattle in a 34-7 gutting.
Whether the Saints can head to the other coast and bring this same intensity and strength is not clear. But you have to feel better about their chances to do so having seen Saturday night's effort.
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