NEW ORLEANS — How many rakes could the New Orleans Saints step on and still win a playoff game?

Apparently all the rakes.

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The Saints had 11 penalties, 1 turnover, a missed field goal, fell behind 14-0, and defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14 anyway.

Hell of magic trick guys, please don’t ever try it again.

The Saints Super Bowl dreams hung by the thinnest of threads when Sean Payton decided the solution was what he always believes is the solution to a crisis: hyper-aggressive play calls.

If the Saints get to and win the Super Bowl, Taysom Hill’s fake punt on 4th and 1 with Saints trailing 14-0 will take its place alongside Ambush as one of Sean Payton’s consequences be damned calls that helped win a title.

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Payton wasn’t done though, on the same drive the Saints converted a fourth and goal to pull to 14-7. Change either of those plays and the Eagles are probably flying to Los Angeles for the NFC Championship.

The score to pull the Saints to 14-7 really felt like the Eagles missing their shot to bury the Saints.

As the Saints offense was getting cranked up the defense was about to put Nick Foles magic in the sleeper hold. After 140 yards and starting 7-8, Foles would finish 18-31 and the Eagles would muster just 97 yards of offense the rest of the game.

The Saints defense is real and it is spectacular, even if the rest of the football world hasn’t figured it out yet.

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Can we talk about the 11 and a half minute, 18 play drive to give the Saints the lead in the third quarter? Pregnancies last 9 months, Presidential terms last 4 years; both aren’t as long as the Saints 18-play offensive version of War and Peace.

The Saints overcame 4 offensive penalties, had a Taysom Hill touchdown throw called back, and had a holding penalty on the punt return so the drive started at Saints 8 yard line. Didn’t matter, because when it was done Michael Thomas had a score to give the Saints a 17-14 lead.

By the way, Michael Thomas is just gonna play this game on loop during his contract negotiations with GM Mickey Loomis. While it plays he’ll say softy, “Pay me Mickey. Pay me ALL THE MONEY.”

The Saints offense was quietly fantastic following a horrible start, and if not for a weird sequence of plays, followed by a missed Wil Lutz kick, everyone would feel pretty great about where the offense is.

The Saints were blessed to play a 9-7 team whom they beat 48-7 earlier this season, because any other playoff team probably means Saints are entering their offseason. But that’s why home field and #1 Seed matter so damn much.

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Every championship in football requires a little luck and one great escape game. Don’t believe me? Ask the 2009 Saints about the NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings.

The New Orleans Saints, the team who for most of the Sean Payton Era acted like good defense was some mystical legend people talked about but didn’t really exist, scored 20 points at home in playoff game against the defending Super Bowl Champions AND WON?!

The fans walking out the stadium reminded me of the 2000 win over the St Louis Rams to clinch the Saints first ever playoff victory in franchise history— It was a combination of euphoria mixed with disbelief and alcohol.

Before we move on to the NFC Championship and the Rams, can we all just take a moment to savor the fact when the Saints were flat on their back and the most most glorious of seasons seemed to be flat-lining to the saddest of Code Blues, the defense and special teams grabbed the rope and pulled the Saints and their fans out of the pit of despair.

Did that just happen? Did we just watch a Drew Brees team grind out a 20-14 win after stumbling around like a guy in the dark looking for a light switch for the first 15 minutes of the game?

We sure as hell did.

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Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at saintshappyhour@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.