The New Orleans Saints finally won a road playoff game by changing their personality. They became bullies.
"That line of scrimmage made the difference," coach Sean Payton said after the game.
The Saints dominated the Philadelphia Eagles up front throughout Saturday night, capping the game with a clock-killing, season-ending field-goal drive to win it 26-24. LeSean McCoy and the top-ranked rushing attack of the Eagles was held to 80 yards. Meanwhile, the Saints racked up 185 yards on the ground after the game of Mark Ingram's life.
"Once we felt like we were pushing them, we wanted to be consistent with that," Payton said.
The Saints won on a night when Drew Brees only gave a "B" performance. They won on a night where Khiry Robinson touched the ball with the game on the line. The Eagles offensive line, led by tackle Jason Peters and guard Evan Mathis, earned plenty of Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 2013. But they were pushed around when it mattered Saturday night. So did Philadelphia's improved defensive front seven.
It took a game-winning field goal for New Orleans to prevail, but it never looked like a close contest. The Saints were far tougher. Here's what else we learned from two terrific games Saturday:
1. Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan should win the mythical "Assistant Coach of the Year" award. He lost his best cornerback, Keenan Lewis, and linebacker Parys Haralson during Saturday's game, and New Orleans still held Philadelphia to only 256 yards.
2. New Orleans' talent is not that great on defense, especially with cornerback Jabari Greer and safety Kenny Vaccaro out for the season. But they find a way. Defensive end Akiem Hicks is an unsung hero.
3. Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles saved one of his worst games for last. Once again, his stat line (23-for-33 passing, 195 yards through the air, 2 TD passes) looks better than he played. He struggled to pull the trigger on a number of throws and held the ball too often.
4. Eagles coach Chip Kelly did an incredible job in his first season. The Eagles need more defensive players that can win one-on-one matchups. The offense can use more weapons, but it has a great base to work from. It will be interesting to see who Kelly adds behind Foles, because the usurped Michael Vick figures to leave.
5. The legend of Andrew Luck is just getting started after Indianapolis' thrilling 45-44 win over the Chiefs. The Colts quarterback's epic comeback against Kansas City makes me think that anything is possible with him. The game never feels over with him involved. The Colts have barely any running game, Da'Rick Rogers is their No. 2 receiver and they still scored 35 points in the second half.
8. Some hard questions will be asked about Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton in the offseason. Either Kansas City's defensive talent is wildly overrated or they did a horrible job coaching. Despite five Pro Bowl picks and Derrick Johnson, the Chiefs were roughly equal to the Cowboys' unit in the second half of the season.
9. Alex Smith played one of the best games of all-time from a quarterback who lost a playoff game, with 378 passing yards, four touchdown passes and 57 more yards on the ground. His ability to escape pressure and improvise was sensational. Smith showed down the stretch this season that the Chiefs' offense was explosive enough to go deep into the playoffs. This is why "winning" can be such a misleading stat for quarterbacks. Smith was spectacular on Saturday.