NEW ORLEANS — Heading into Monday night, it was hard to tell whether New Orleans or Philadelphia was the more embattled team.
The Saints had the bounty scandal and the Sean Payton contract going on while the Eagles were playing for Andy Reid’s future.
After a 28-13 win, New Orleans put any question to rest.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, for at least one night, was a rocking home field advantage.
And it provided the setting for the Saints’ most-complete game to date this season.
“Obviously the position we’re in right now, it’s never more important than one foot in front of the other, one game at a time and just thinking about the next opponent on a short week,” quarterback Drew Brees said.
The Saints (3-5) put on tape a game that should give Atlanta, New Orleans’ next opponent, reason to pause.
In spite of giving up 447 total yards to Philadelphia (3-5), the Saints’ defense cobbled together a big game in other ways. The Eagles were only 6 of 16 on third down and went 0-for-5 inside the red zone. New Orleans forced two turnovers, including a pick-six by cornerback Patrick Robinson in the first quarter that got the ball rolling for the Saints.
Michael Vick was 22 of 41 for 272 yards and a touchdown, but threw the interception and was sacked seven times for minus-46 yards and finished with a 72.4 quarterback rating.
“We had so many opportunities in the red zone and we just didn’t capitalize,” Vick said. “And that’s tough. We worked on the red zone all week and when you get down there, you’ve got to score points.”
Meanwhile, New Orleans’ offense found true balance, rushing 25 times for 140 yards in spite of missing Darren Sproles with a broken hand. Running back Chris Ivory, in his first playing time this season, carried 10 times for 48 yards and a 22-yard dash into the end zone.
“It will give us a lot of confidence,” said running back Pierre Thomas, who had 108 all-purpose yards in the win. “It shows us that we can run the ball no matter what. We can run the ball as a group. We just have to go out there and establish it.”
Meanwhile Brees went 21 of 27, completing passes to eight different players for 239 yards and two touchdowns.
The Eagles didn’t make it easy, however, providing just enough of a scare in the fourth quarter to keep the game interesting.
Philadelphia forced a New Orleans punt with 8 minutes, 45 seconds to play and drove to the Saints’ 5. But then the Eagles went backwards, first by a penalty and then thanks to a seven-yard sack by Cam Jordan, his third of the night.
And on third-and-goal from the 22, Curtis Lofton hit Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek, forcing a fumble that New Orleans safety Isa Abdul-Quddus recovered.
New Orleans never was threatened again.
For the first time this season, the Saints’ defense came out blitzing as coordinator Steve Spagnuolo turned back the clock. Still, after stopping the Eagles on the opening series of the game, New Orleans gave up a 40-yard run by Bryce Brown, putting Philadelphia at the Saints’ 5-yard line.
But two plays later, maligned cornerback Patrick Robinson deftly picked up a tip off of the hands of Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek and returned it 99 yards for the game’s initial score. In spite of the Saints’ offense barely possessing the ball to that point, New Orleans owned a 7-0 lead.
“That was a big play,” Saints acting head coach Joe Vitt said. “That was a 14-point swing – the seven we got and the seven they didn’t.”
Philadelphia cut into New Orleans’ lead 7-3 on a 22-yard Alex Henry field goal. The Eagles had the goal-to-go opportunity only after LeSean McCoy went for 34-yards to the Saints’ 4 on fourth-and-one.
The Saints answered right back, using a mixture of run and pass to swiftly move down the field. And on first-and-10 from the Philadelphia 22, Chris Ivory made his first mark of the season. It was a good one – Ivory dashed 22 yards into the end zone, using a decisive cut in the open field to outrun the Eagles’ secondary to give the Saints a 14-3 lead.
New Orleans extended its lead on its next possession as Brees guided the offense 73 yards before connecting with receiver Marques Colston for the final yard and a 21-3 advantage. The pass marked the 51st consecutive game with a touchdown strike.
Philadelphia then turned the momentum in the third quarter on four plays.
Defensive end Brandon Graham sacked, stripped and recovered a fumble by Brees at the Eagles’ 17. Two plays later, Vick hit DeSean Jackson for a 77-yard touchdown as the receiver eluded a sure open-field tackle. Suddenly the Saints’ lead was down to 21-10.
“They actually blitzed on that play and Michael threw it up there and let me catch it on the run,” said Jackson, who finished with 100 yards on three catches. “And that freed me up a little bit to make a play. And it was a big play for us at the time.”
On the ensuing kickoff, rookie Travaris Cadet, returning kicks for the injured Darren Sproles, fumbled. Philadelphia recovered at New Orleans’ 22 and was set for more points.
New Orleans’ defense, however, held its ground, forcing a 37-yard Henry field goal. Instead of leading by four, the Saints were up 21-13 with 7 minutes to go in the third quarter.
But the Saints didn’t back down off on offense, coming right back with a 70-yard drive capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham.
And after it appeared the Saints were in for a fight, they were back up by double digits with a 28-13 lead.