NEW ORLEANS -- Run the ball + stop the run = championship football.
The New Orleans Saints passed their first road test with flying colors Saturday night in sub-freezing temperatures at Lincoln Financial Field, edging the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24 on Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal as time expired.
It's why the Saints are still on the playoff road to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Now it's on to Seattle where the underdog Saints (12-5) will try to knock off the top-dog Seahawks (13-3) at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle dominated an earlier meeting between the teams in Week 13, winning 34-7 in a game that mushroomed into a demoralizing rout midway through the first quarter.
Saints fans seldom question the resolve of their team. But on that Monday night on a national stage in the Pacific Northwest, the Black and Gold seemed to lack both heart and grit for 60 minutes.
Sean Payton's team now has a chance to avenge the "Stink at the Link,'' all because it went to Philly and bullied the home team in a manner seldom seen during his tenure.
If you had told me the Saints would commit two turnovers, force zero takeaways, score just one touchdown on four trips inside the red zone and win on the road, I'd say no way.
If you had told me the Saints would out rush the NFL's No. 1 ranked ground game by 105 yards and win on the road, I'd say there was a typo in the game book.
If you had told me Mark Ingram would have a bigger impact in the game's outcome than NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy, I'd ask when did McCoy exit the game injured.
If you had told me Drew Brees would post a 75.7 passer rating, nearly 30 points lower than Eagles second-year quarterback Nick Foles, I'd say the Saints would lose.
And yet the Black and Gold rushed the ball with authority led by Ingram with 97 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown, held the Eagles to 256 total yards (80 on the ground, 80 below their season average) and essentially ran out the clock with Brees running and handing off the ball.
If you had told me, the Saints' would have been able to exhaust the final four minutes, 54 seconds of the game while producing only six yards through the air, I would not have believed it was possible.
But the Saints ran the ball into field goal range with Khiry Robinson (22 yards), Ingram (2 yards) and even Brees (4 yards) getting in the act.
The victory, however, came at a potential heavy cost. Outside linebacker Parys Haralson reportedly tore a pectoral muscle (he's since been placed on season-ending IR) and cornerback Keenan Lewis must go through the necessary concussion protocol in order to be cleared to play against the Seahawks. That is not good news for Rob Ryan's defensive unit that is already riddled by injury.
Additionally, the status of injured running back Pierre Thomas will be determined later this week. He missed the Eagles game with a rib injury, according to NBC Sports. In a sense, Ingram benefited from one less running back being available to Payton.
If the Saints can force a few turnovers and bring to Seattle that physical style of football they displayed in Philadelphia -- minus Brees' two interceptions, of course -- there is no reason they can't be playing for the NFC championship.
Run the ball, stop the run.
Championship football travels well and withstands all kinds of elements and distractions, even the mind-blowing cicada-like buzz of the 12th Man in Seattle.
Question is will the Saints pack their "A'' game or bring something less formidable for the road Saturday night.
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