NFL playoff final four set as Saints, Patriots advance

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 14 2019 09:30 AM

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) tries to recover a loose ball during the first quarter of a NFC Divisional playoff football game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. John David Mercer, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

WASHINGTON -- Drew Brees threw two touchdown passes and the New Orleans Saints beat defending champion Philadelphia 20-14 Sunday, joining the history-making New England Patriots in the NFL playoff semi-finals.

Two days before his 40th birthday, Brees overcame a first-pass pickoff to complete 28 of 38 throws for 301 yards and rally the host Saints from a 14-0 deficit in the team's greatest playoff fightback.

"We just had to find our rhythm," Brees said. "I tried to take a shot on the first play and that didn't work. They got off to a phenomenal start."

But the Saints will go marching into next Sunday's National Conference final against the visiting Los Angeles Rams for a berth in Super Bowl 53 on February 3 at Atlanta.

New England advanced to the American Conference final for a record eighth consecutive season by ripping the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28, booking a date next Sunday at Kansas City to decide the other berth in the NFL championship spectacle.

Five-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady completed 34 of 44 passes for 343 yards and a touchdown while Sony Michel ran 24 times for 129 yards and three touchdowns to help build a 35-7 half-time lead for the Patriots, who seek a ninth Super Bowl appearance in 18 campaigns.

"The line played great and I think we just did a good job of keeping them off balance. It was a good win," Brady said. "It's that time of year. You've got to play your best."

The Patriots, seeking a third crown in five seasons, beat Kansas City 43-40 in an October regular-season contest, but the Chiefs, who haven't won a title since the 1969 campaign, were the only visitors all season to lead at New England.

"Kansas City has had a hell of a year," Brady said. "They gave us everything we could handle in October. I'm sure it will be the same. It's going to be fun to play them in the championship game."

The Rams and Saints each went an NFL-best 13-3 this season, with New Orleans beating the Rams 45-35 in November.

The Saints won their only Super Bowl in 2010. The Rams own three NFL titles from three different cities -- Cleveland in 1945, Los Angeles in 1951 and the 2000 Super Bowl while based in St. Louis. They moved back to LA in 2016.

- Eagles fly high early -

The Saints blasted Philadelphia 48-7 in a November meeting, but the Eagles served notice early they wouldn't suffer another disaster.

Philadelphia's Cre'Von LeBlanc intercepted Brees's first pass to set up a 37-yard Nick Foles touchdown toss to Jordan Matthews. Foles followed with a 1-yard touchdown run later in the first quarter for a 14-0 Eagles lead.

New Orleans answered with a 12-play, 79-yard touchdown drive -- sustained by a Taysom Hill fake punt run and capped by a 2-yard Brees touchdown pass to rookie Keith Kirkwood on fourth down -- and Will Lutz's 45-yard field goal made it 14-10 at half-time.

The Saints took their first lead on a season-longest 18-play, 92-yard touchdown march that took 11:29 of the third quarter and ended with a 2-yard Brees touchdown pass to Michael Thomas.

Lutz added a 39-yard field goal for a 20-14 New Orleans lead but missed from 52 yards with 2:58 remaining.

Foles drove the Eagles into Saints territory but a pass deflected off the hands of Alshon Jeffery and into those of Saints defender Marshon Lattimore for an interception and New Orleans ran out the clock.

- Patriots run wild on LA -

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) celebrates as running back Sony Michel (26) dives for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC Divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. David Butler II, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

The Chargers, previously 9-0 on the road, were humbled by a Patriots team that went 9-0 at home this season.

New England's James White matched an NFL playoff record with 15 catches for 97 yards while Julian Edelman caught nine passes for 151 yards.

Brady, 41, and the Chargers' Philip Rivers, 37, had the oldest combined age of starting quarterbacks in NFL playoff history. But Rivers fell to 0-8 all-time against Brady and 1-5 in games played in sub-freezing cold.

The Patriots dominated from the start, scoring touchdowns on their opening four possessions for the first time in club playoff history.

Michel scored on a 1-yard run to cap an 83-yard opening march and, after Rivers answered with a 43-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Allen, added a 14-yard touchdown run.

Brady connected with Phillip Dorsett on a 15-yard touchdown toss 2:43 into the second quarter, his 13th consecutive playoff game with a TD pass, and Rex Burkhead followed with a 6-yard touchdown run.

After New England was finally forced to punt, LA's Desmond King fumbled the catch and Albert McClellan recovered for the Patriots, setting up Michel's 5-yard touchdown run for a 35-7 half-time lead.

The Chargers added too-late touchdowns on a 1-yard Melvin Gordon run and Rivers passes of one yard to Virgil Green and eight to Antonio Gates.

© Agence France-Presse

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