“That was a long-ass drive,” Saints guard Larry Warford said of the relentless march down the field that took up nearly the entire third quarter and gave New Orleans its first lead, the only one it would need in a 20-14 win over the Eagles. And my goodness, yes it was.
Officially, Drew Brees led the Saints 92 yards in 18 plays and 11:29. That’s the longest postseason scoring drive by plays since 2007, and by time elapsed since 2000. Unofficially, if you add the plays that didn’t count and the yardage that had to be re-gained due to penalties (three by New Orleans, one by Philadelphia), it was 21 plays and 112 yards. The numbers are so silly that Brees just had to say it out loud, to see what it sounds like.“We went on a -yard drive to take the lead in the third quarter and really didn’t look back,” he said. “That was the turning point of the game.”
It was machine-efficient, a clinic by Brees that relied heavily on his favorite weapons to pick up healthy-but-modest chunks of yardage on nearly every play. They say the best third-down strategy is to not let it get to third down, and indeed, the Saints only faced three third downs on the drive—two of them short-yardage situations.
And every time the forever drive even vaguely threatened to stall, the Saints immediately quashed the notion. A holding penalty made it second-and-20; the very next play, Brees hit Michael Thomas for 20 yards. Another holding penalty; Thomas converted a third-and-16 with another 20-yard gain. A false start made it first-and-15; Alvin Kamara ran for 15 yards on the next snap. Those sort of plays are absolutely demoralizing to a defense, especially one as injured and as physically exhausted as the Eagles were.
And then, finally, just because there were no more yards left on the field, Thomas capped off the drive with a touchdown.
It was another steamroller of an afternoon for Thomas, who had four catches for 53 yards on that drive, and 12 for 171 (both Saints playoff records) in the game. No other wideout had more than three receptions. Thomas represents everything inexorable about this Saints offense: even when you know the ball’s going to him, you still can’t stop him. I hope the Rams’ D-backs are working on their cardio.