NEW ORLEANS — It all got here all the way down to a go thrown proper right into a receiver’s fingers. Even if he caught it, the New Orleans Saints had defenders in place to make the sort out properly wanting a rating. But then abruptly, inexplicably, maddeningly … the unthinkable occurred.
“If you play this game lengthy sufficient,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees mentioned, “you are going to be a part of some loopy stuff.”
The ball bounced off the fingers of Philadelphia Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery for less than his third drop of the season and landed softly in these of Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The interception sealed the Saints’ 20-14 victory, sending them to subsequent week’s NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams for an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2009.
When reporters entered the Saints’ locker room, remnants of a dance-club fog machine nonetheless wafted by means of the air. But the haze did little to cloud long-term recollections. It was lost on nobody that Lattimore’s interception got here practically one year to the day after the Saints have been eradicated from the divisional playoff round by one other freaky play.
Remember the Minneapolis Miracle? The Saints have been on their approach to the 2017 NFC Championship Game till Saints security Marcus Williams missed a sort out on Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs.
“Things occur,” Lattimore mentioned. “Last year, on the landing, Marcus Williams missed a sort out. That was a once-in-a-lifetime factor. Alshon Jeffery is an effective receiver with nice fingers, after which issues occur [again]. You should capitalize on that.”
Alshon Jeffery has a go go proper by means of his fingers, and Marshon Lattimore makes the interception to seal the Saints’ 20-14 win over the Eagles.
How unlikely was it that Jeffery would drop a go from Eagles quarterback Nick Foles? This season, Jeffery caught 27 of 33 targets from Foles. His profession drop proportion of two.6 % (19 of 736 targets) is healthier than all however six NFL pass-catchers with at the least 400 receptions over that interval, in keeping with ESPN Stats & Information analysis. You’re speaking about considered one of this decade’s most sure-handed receivers dropping a straightforward go from one of the crucial clutch postseason quarterbacks in current reminiscence.
But that is the sort of factor that occurs when the Saints play at home within the playoffs. It’s no accident that they’re 7-Zero on the Superdome within the postseason since coach Sean Payton was employed in 2006. We all like to make use of information and tangible details to clarify wins and losses. But I defy you to sit down within the Superdome for a playoff game and never really feel the power it produces for the home team.
Even once they trailed 14-0, it by no means felt just like the Saints have been wherever near finished. Lattimore began the comeback within the second quarter when he jumped over Eagles tight finish Zach Ertz to seize his first interception. We then watched because the Saints’ offense discovered its means and the Eagles stalled out. The Eagles jumped offside twice. On a number of events, they aborted checks on the line, in keeping with Saints defensive lineman Cameron Jordan.
A crowd of 73,027 fans screamed and stomped so laborious that the press field actually shook. This is the sort of ambiance that makes players with elite fingers drop the ball. It’s what made a Hall of Fame quarterback panic 10 seasons in the past and throw throughout his body within the game’s final seconds. (Yes, the Saints superior to their solely Super Bowl in 2009 partly as a result of cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted Vikings quarterback Brett Favre to drive additional time.)
“The advantage,” Jordan mentioned, “is actual.”
Lattimore, in the meantime, mentioned he has not heard the Superdome any louder throughout two seasons in New Orleans. And make no mistake: His massive game could not have come at a greater time for a team that might want to defeat two of the highest 4 scoring offenses to win Super Bowl LIII.
Nick Foles tries to search out Zach Ertz down the left sideline, however Marshon Lattimore takes advantage of the underthrown ball and makes the interception.
Lattimore light from the nationwide radar this season after making the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2017. Part of his disappearance was resulting from a drop in interceptions, from 5 to 2. But he additionally struggled in protection at occasions, most notably in an terrible Week 1 matchup against Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans.
“That’s like my brother,” Saints receiver Michael Thomas mentioned of Lattimore. “[W]hen he makes a play, I get a special sort of heartbeat. I really like him, man. I all the time have to remain in his ear, and I inform him he is able to making these sort of performs. He’s that man on protection. And so long as he stays centered and locks in on his task, the sky is the restrict. And that is just a testomony to him not folding, not getting pissed off and staying within the game. I’m pleased with him. He grew up right now.”
With Lattimore again to creating game-changing performs, and the Superdome set to host the NFC Championship Game, it isn’t troublesome to see the Saints advancing to their second Super Bowl. If the game is in any respect shut within the fourth quarter, the Saints have an enormous and simple advantage.
“We’ve been on each side of it,” Payton mentioned. “We’ve performed in some powerful highway venues the place it is actual loud. Minnesota, Seattle, and we play at home right here. That’s one of many explanation why you fight so laborious for the greatest seed you may — so that you’ve the prospect to play with the [crowd] in your favor.”