NEW ORLEANS – Saints coach Sean Payton dismisses the premise that the Philadelphia Eagles could derive extra motivation from the widespread perception that New Orleans ran up the score on them when they met in November.
“My question would be: We’re all playing hard in these divisional playoff games, right?” Payton began, referring to Sunday’s rematch in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. “Are you going to play harder” because of a perceived slight?
Still, Payton expects a more competitive affair than the Saints’ 48-7 blowout of the Eagles on Nov. 18, which gave Philadelphia the dubious distinction of becoming the first reigning Super Bowl champion to lose by that wide a margin in the following regular season.
The Eagles (10-7) appeared to be sinking fast when their loss in New Orleans dropped them to 4-6. But they’ve rallied to win six of seven since, including a road victory against the Los Angeles Rams that helped New Orleans (13-3) capture the conference’s top seed.
“They’ve kind of been in a playoff role really going back to those games, needing to win to get in,” Payton said. “So it’s impressive.”
Now the Eagles, who opened as 10-point underdogs, can ruin the Saints’ Super Bowl dreams with a second straight road upset.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said. “We’re a completely different team than we were seven weeks ago. I don’t think the team that showed up on that Sunday is even remotely close to the team that we are right now.”
Such a lopsided loss in New Orleans could have resulted in finger-pointing and a fractured locker room, Ertz suggested. Instead, Ertz said, “It was a rallying point for our season.”
The Eagles survived last week’s wild-card round with a 16-15 victory in which quarterback Nick Foles – who’s won four straight starts since taking over for injured starter Carson Wentz – engineered a late scoring drive capped by a fourth-down touchdown pass. And that only stood up after Chicago kicker Cody Parkey’s “double-doink” miss on a field-goal attempt that hit both the upright and crossbar in the final seconds.
Philadelphia likely will need more offense in the Superdome, where the Saints averaged 37 points in Drew Brees’ seven home starts before the record-setting QB got a rest day during the club’s anti-climactic regular-season finale.
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