Brees wins Lone Star battle with Foles

The Saints' Drew Brees threw two interceptions in the first half. He was better in the second.
The Saints' Drew Brees threw two interceptions in the first half. He was better in the second. (   RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 06, 2014

At game time, the temperature was 64 degrees.

In Austin, Texas.

In Lincoln Financial Field, however, quarterbacks Nick Foles and Drew Brees, the pride of Westlake High School, had somewhat more frigid conditions.

Their careers had started along the same path back home, and on Saturday night the lines crossed as the Eagles and Saints waited to see which of their quarterbacks could lead them to the relative warmth of the NFC divisional playoff round.

It took until the final tick of the game to find out which would be the lucky one, and on this night it was Brees, 10 years older than Foles, maybe without as many chances remaining. Football is funny in that way. You never know how many games like this present themselves.

"This doesn't feel good. We wanted to keep playing," Foles said, just minutes after Shayne Graham's fourth field goal of the evening sliced through the uprights as time expired to give the Saints a 26-24 win. "I'm hurting inside."

The greatest season of Nick Foles' football career came to an end against the Saints, and what has been a good, not great season for Brees was able to continue.

In truth, it wasn't a night when the result came down to the quarterbacks. On this cold night, the Saints were able to run the football far better than expected, and the Eagles weren't able to run it very well at all. As New Orleans marched down to the winning field goal, it wasn't the arm of Brees that led them as much as the legs of Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson.

That's a tough realization for the Eagles to accept as they look back. It isn't as if losing because Brees beat them would have been easy, but it would have been understandable. Being outworked at the line of scrimmage by the Saints is what will sting.

"I was keeping my arm warm in case we got it back," Foles said. "You have to play to the whistle, until there's nothing on the clock. This didn't come out the way we wanted tonight, but I'm still proud of my team."

For the night, Foles was 23 for 33 for 195 yards, and he connected with DeSean Jackson on a deep 40-yard completion that helped fuel a second-half comeback. He didn't throw an interception - in fact the Eagles won the turnover battle, 2-0 - and his quarterback rating was 105.0, but still his performance was nowhere near as good as it has been this season. He misfired on some passes, took two sacks, and didn't get the offense fully in gear.

Some of that was due to the Saints' defense and its ability to hem in LeSean McCoy for most of the game. Foles couldn't fix that by himself, and it hurt the Eagles badly.

Brees won't put this game film in his personal collection when his career is over. He threw two interceptions in the first half, also was sacked twice and had a 20-for-30 night that was good but not great. What he did have was a running game to take the pressure off him and, when the Eagles couldn't stop the run in a nickel defensive package, he had the opportunity to pick his spots against the Eagles linebackers.

After a relatively poor first half, Brees came out hot at the start of the third quarter, which is what the Saints needed. He led them to two touchdowns and a 20-7 lead on their first two possessions of the half. Again, it was the running game of New Orleans that hurt the Eagles as the Saints mixed up their play calls.

Foles and the Eagles didn't get shaken as they fell behind, however. He found Jackson for a long completion and then McCoy powered the ball into the end zone to cut into the deficit.

After forcing a punt, Jackson got the Eagles going again with a 29-yard return, and then Foles went repeatedly to Riley Cooper to move the ball down the field and set up a field goal that made it 20-17.

By this point of the game, both defenses were ragged, and it looked like a matter of which quarterback would have his team in position to win the game at the end. The Saints added a field goal, but the Eagles took the lead, 24-23, with under five minutes to play on a 77-yard drive that finished with a sharp Foles 3-yard TD pass to Zach Ertz.

That could have been the hero moment if the Eagles had held, but they didn't. A good return with a horse-collar penalty tacked on set up the Saints for their final drive, and Brees kept the Saints settled and moving forward. The winning field goal was little more than a chip shot.

For most of the night, right up until that final field goal, there was no way to tell if the Austin quarterback who set the high school records would emerge with the win or if it would go to the one who broke them.

"We felt if we kept running the offense, it would start to click," Foles said. "We kept fighting."

It clicked for 17 points in their final three possessions, but unfortunately for the Eagles, the Saints got one more.

The game made its final swing, and it went to Brees and the Saints. Down in Austin, it was still a good night for almost everyone. The hometown guy had won a big game. Of course, they knew going in that would be the case.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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