PHILADELPHIA — Eventually, the law of averages works its magic.
Saturday night, it finally worked in the Saints’ favor.
For the first time in franchise history, New Orleans won a true road playoff game, Shayne Graham’s 32-yard field goal pushing the Saints into the divisional round of the NFC playoffs with a 26-24 win over Philadelphia.
It must have been the change in travel sweatsuits.
After struggling on the road for most of the final two months of the season, losing to Seattle and Carolina, coach Sean Payton made changes, some with the players’ mental state in mind.
So this week, they got new sweatsuits, among other things.
The Saints flipped the script on similar games when they lost at New England and Carolina, two games when they could have won late but didn't.
New Orleans nearly doubled the Eagles’ offense with 435 total yards, including a clock-eating 185 yards on the ground. Mark Ingram had 97 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, pacing the run attack.
Drew Brees overcame a slow two-interception start to finish 20-for-30 for 250 yards and a touchdown.
The NFL’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, meanwhile, had just 77 yards on 21 carries. First-year starter Nick Foles, meanwhile, was 23 of 33 for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
And New Orleans (12-5) once again came up big on third down defense, holding Philadelphia (10-7) to just 3 of 12 on the down.
After Foles put the Eagles ahead with a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass, the Saints ran off the final 4:54 of the clock, converting two third downs on the 10-play drive.
Brees centered the ball for Graham on first-and-10 at the 14 with just 29 seconds to play and, with one timeout remaining, the Saints knew they could run the clock out on the game.
New Orleans began the game with two punts, the second of which put the Eagles in prime starting field position at their own 47. But the Saints’ defense held when cornerback Keenan Lewis didn’t bite on one of McCoy’s jukes.
The Eagles came up with the opening quarter’s first big play when Bradley Fletcher intercepted a deep pass intended for Kenny Stills. Philadelphia appeared headed for a lead-taking touchdown when the New Orleans defense stiffened inside the 20.
And instead of being behind early, the game stayed tied when Alex Henery pushed a 48-yard field goal attempt wide left.
It appeared the Saints again were going to lose the ball close to its own goal line when Jimmy Graham had the ball knocked out of his hands as he lunged for a first down. But a replay overturned the ruling and the Saints picked up a 36-yard Shayne Graham field goal and a 3-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Saints’ lead wouldn’t last long. The Eagles answer came on a drive started by Brees’ second interception of the night. Philadelphia converted its only third down on the drive, a 10-yard touchdown pass from Foles to Riley Cooper and New Orleans trailed 7-3.
New Orleans quickly drove to the Philadelphia 28 and picked up a 46-yard Graham field goal to cut the deficit to 7-6 at halftime.
It would have the lead back before five minutes ran off the second half clock. The Saints’ defense shackled Foles, forcing a punt and six plays later, Brees found Lance Moore open in the middle of the field. The receiver ran the bit of a 24-yard touchdown and New Orleans took a 13-7 lead.
That advantage would grow to 20-7 on New Orleans’ next series after Brees converted a third-and-12 early. Ingram punched the ball in for a four-yard touchdown. The score was New Orleans’ fourth in five series and gave it a firm advantage in the game.
New Orleans, however, would lose its best defensive back on the next series when Keenan Lewis knocked himself out of the game on a pass breakup. Philadelphia took immediate advantage as Foles hit a 40-yard pass to DeSean Jackson, his first reception of the game. Four players later, McCoy ran in for a one-yard touchdown that cut the Saints’ lead to 20-14.
Jackson’s 29-yard return on a punt put the Eagles in position for a potential lead-taking score, but the defense stiffened and forced a 31-yard Henery field goal. With 11:14 to play, the Saints nursed a 20-17 lead.
Brees once again, though, led New Orleans down the field, getting the Saints to the 17. They settled for a 35-yard Graham field goal and pushed the lead to 23-17 with 8:04 to go.
A pass interference penalty on Corey White put the Eagles in first-and-goal at the 3 on the ensuing series and, when Foles hit tight end Zach Ertz for a touchdown pass with 4:54 still to play, New Orleans fell behind 24-23.