PHILADELPHIA — New Orleans’ first road playoff win began with Mark Ingram running right past a Philadelphia defender on his way to a 17-yard gain.
The 26-24 win over the Eagles was secured with 10-play drive that consisted of eight runs that gained 28 yards, ate up all but the final 3 seconds of the clock and centered the ball for kicker Shayne Graham, who booted this team into history.
When all was said and done, the Saints rang up 185 yards rushing, the season’s second-highest total in its most important game.
“We kind of knew coming in that we had a little bit of a size advantage and that was something that we were going to try to do and fortunately for us it worked out,” Saints right tackle Zach Strief said. “Coach Payton stuck with it. It was good.”
Players spoke for much of the week about balance and about how critical it was to run the football not just effectively, but efficiently.
That’s exactly what New Orleans (12-5) did. The Saints averaged 3.8 yards per carry during the regular season. Saturday night, their average was 5.1 yards per carry.
Ingram gained 97 yards on 18 carries, a 5.4 per carry average. It's the second-most yards he has rushed for in his career. And Khiry Robinson put up 45 yards on eight totes, a 5.6 per carry average.
“Just the fact that they trust me and have that confidence in me, where I can carry the ball and carry the load, I appreciate that,” Ingram said. “That’s why I worked my butt off every single day, just so that when I do have the opportunity, that I’m 110 percent ready to do what I can to help the team win games.”
As important as the total was, it was when some of the yards came that stand out the most.
New Orleans converted 7 of 13 third downs; five of the successful plays were runs, including two third-and-one conversions on the final game-winning drive. The Saints, after struggling in short-yardage situations earlier in the season, went 4-for-4 on third-and-one.
“Once we felt like we were pushing them, we wanted to be consistent with that,” coach Sean Payton said.
And that might just have caught Philadelphia off-guard.
“We knew they were going to run it here and there, but we definitely did not think they were going to run it as much as they did,” Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham said. “We thought they were going to air it out and we came up short.”