By Tucker Bagley
The Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 lead in New Orleans, but allowed the Saints back into the game. Entering the half, the Birds still lead, 14-10. Here's what happened in the first 30 minutes of the Divisional playoff game:
- Cre'Von Leblanc was a media darling all week after his performance against the Bears last week, but his interception on the first play from scrimmage was a huge boost for a team that was a huge underdog.
- The ensuing drive was a great example of just how motivated the Eagles are this week. Nick Foles and company notched three first downs before the quarterback hit Jordan Matthews on a deep post for a 37-yard touchdown. After each first down and the score, the Birds seemed to be juiced up and the Superdome was stunned as Matthews celebrated in the end zone.
- Speaking of Foles, he's looking a lot like the guy who won Super Bowl MVP 11 months ago. He completed his first seven passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. Then after an incompletion, Foles hit Alshon Jeffery on a back-shoulder throw for 30 yards to set up his own touchdown run two plays later. Through the first quarter, Foles looked like the second coming of Joe Montana.
- The Eagles defense simply dominated the early part of the game, not allowing a positive play until there were 2 minutes remaining in the first quarter. Even after Drew Brees finally converted a first down, Brandon Graham strip-sacked the future Hall of Famer on the next series. The Saints finished the first quarter with just 17 yards of total offense and two first downs.
- Pro Bowl left guard Brandon Brooks had to be carted off after suffering an apparent leg injury midway through the first quarter. Based on the reaction from the team and the medical staff, it seemed to be a serious injury that could rule him out for the remainder of the season. Rasul Douglas later suffered an ankle injury, Fletcher Cox limped off with a leg injury and Michael Bennett got hurt as well, but he returned a few plays later.
- Foles's first mistake came early in the second quarter where he underthrew Zach Ertz on a wheel route and was intercepted. Ertz had a step on Marshon Lattimore, but Foles couldn't get enough air under the ball. On the ensuing drive, the Saints converted a fake punt, then Brees hit Michael Thomas for a 42-yard gain that set up their first touchdown a few plays later.
It's hard to play a better half of football than the Eagles did today. Even the Saints lone scoring drive featured a fake punt and two fourth-down conversions. The Eagles defense has stymied Brees for the most part and Foles has been masterful, outside of his lone interception. The Eagles just need to regroup at the half and remain motivated. There is still 30 minutes of football left and it doesn't take much to get Brees and company started.
Second Half X-Factor: The Secondary
The Eagles have built a big lead in the first half, but Brees is still standing on the other side of the ball. The Saints gameplan was to target Leblanc, who has responded with an interception, but the Bears exposed the Birds' young secondary in the second half and Brees seems to have found a favorite target in Josh Hawkins, who was beat on Keith Kirkwood's touchdown.
If the Eagles are still front-running in the second half, the secondary has to remain disciplined and limit big plays.