New Orleans rallies to knock out Eagles, 27-24


Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 1:51 a.m.
NEW ORLEANS - Deuce McAllister delivered on the promise his more-celebrated running mate made before this season, carrying the New Orleans Saints where they've never been before - one game from the Super Bowl.
McAllister and rookie sensation Reggie Bush led the Saints past the Philadelphia Eagles 27-24 Saturday and into the NFC championship game, a reversal of fortune for the team and the city.
To constant chants of ''DEUCE!'' or ''REG-GIE! REG-GIE!'' the Saints rallied with an assortment of big plays that even featured backup tight end Billy Miller, a rarely used target. But it was the veteran McAllister with his two touchdowns and team playoff mark of 143 yards rushing, and the rookie Bush with his collection of magnificent moves, that made the difference in the raucous Superdome.
All season, the Saints have been at the heart of New Orleans' revival from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Now, the franchise best known for four decades of failure, for the 'Aints and fans wearing paper bags, will either play at Chicago or host Seattle, depending on the outcome of the other NFC division round game today.
With victory secured for the Saints (11-6) on McAllister's powerful rushes for a clinching first down to run out the clock, team owner Tom Benson did his ''Benson Boogie'' on the field. The players hugged and saluted their long-suffering fans while a jazz band belted out tunes.
Who needs Mardi Gras when you have a Super Bowl contender?
Even after Drew Brees' high pitchout got away from Bush with 3:18 remaining and Philadelphia recovering, the Saints would not be denied. Their defense held Brian Westbrook, who was brilliant for the Eagles (11-7), near midfield.
Brees lobbed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Deuce McAllister and the New Orleans Saints took a 27-21 lead over the Philadelphia Eagles after three quarters in an NFC second-round playoff game Saturday night.
Brian Westbrook had a pair of TD runs and Jeff Garcia threw a 75-yard TD pass to Donte' Stallworth, but the Eagles' defense couldn't stop the NFL's top-ranked offense.
On the go-ahead drive, Bush nearly committed the game's first turnover when Jeremiah Trotter forced him to fumble after a short gain. But wideout Terrance Copper fell on the ball for a first down at the Philadelphia 49.
After a sack by Trent Cole was negated by a penalty on Dhani Jones, McAllister went over 100 yards rushing with a 23-yard gain to the Eagles 11. He scored on a screen pass on the next play.
Making their first postseason appearance in six years, the Saints received a rousing ovation from the frenzied, black-and-gold clad fans inside the Louisiana Superdome. Long before kickoff, the raucous sellout crowd started its familiar chant of ''Who dat say they gonna beat dem Saints!''
The streaking Eagles were hoping they'd be up to the task.
On the third play of the third quarter, Westbrook silenced the fans when he burst untouched into the secondary and raced down the right sideline for 62 yards. Safety Josh Bullocks caught up to Westbrook at the 5, but couldn't bring him down as the Eagles took a 21-13 lead.
It was the longest run in team playoff history. Westbrook had a 49-yard TD run in last Sunday's 23-20 wild-card win over the New York Giants. Before he scored, Westbrook had just 17 total yards on eight touches against the Saints.
But New Orleans answered a touchdown with one of its own for the second time in the game. McAllister plowed up the middle from the 5 to cap a 63-yard drive and cut the deficit to 21-20.
Bush's 4-yard touchdown run gave the Saints a 13-6 lead, but Garcia drove the offense downfield and Westbrook leaped in from the 1 to put the Eagles ahead 14-13.
The Saints nearly scored on Brees' Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half. Marques Colston almost made the catch and the Saints stayed on the field, hoping to get a replay that never came. Meanwhile, the Eagles quickly jogged off the field.
Punter Steve Weatherford kept that drive going by eluding a block and running 15 yards to the Saints 47 on fourth-and-13.
Earlier, a strong defensive stand inside the 5 by the Eagles forced the Saints to settle for a field goal, then Garcia hooked up with Stallworth on the longest pass and touchdown in team playoff history.
On third-and-9, Garcia scrambled to his left, stopped and threw deep for a wide-open Stallworth, who had sped past Fred Thomas. Stallworth, playing his first game against his former team, made the catch near the 20 and outraced Thomas into the end zone.
The Saints were in position to score after Bush's change-of-direction 25-yard run and Brees' 35-yard pass to Devery Henderson put the ball at the Eagles 4. But Philly's defense stiffened and the Saints settled for John Carney's 23-yard field goal.
Carney kicked a 33-yarder in the first quarter.
For only the ninth time in 18 games this season, Philadelphia held its opponent scoreless on the opening drive. Cornerback Sheldon Brown set the tone early by delivering a crushing hit on Bush on the second play.
Counted out after losing star quarterback Donovan McNabb to a knee injury in Week 11, the Eagles won their last five regular-season games behind Garcia and captured the NFC East title.
New Orleans went from worst to first in the NFC South under first-year coach Sean Payton. The NFL Coach of the Year improved the Saints' victory total by seven, reviving one of the league's historically unsuccessful franchises and rejuvenating a city torn apart by Hurricane Katrina.
The Saints entered with one victory in six playoff games and were trying to advance to the NFC championship game for the first time in the franchise's 40-year history.

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