A season ago, a New Orleans Saints team lacking a running game was ousted by Seattle in the first round of the NFC playoffs.
This year, the Saints' running game is much better. Just ask Detroit.
New Orleans supplemented the usual big yards in the air from quarterback Drew Brees with 167 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries as the Saints beat the Detroit Lions, 45-28 in an NFC wildcard playoff game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Pierre Thomas rushed for 66 yards and Darren Sproles added 51 rushing yards and two touchdowns for New Orleans, which advanced to play at San Francisco next week in the divisional round. With the running game moving and the Saints converting on third and fourth downs - New Orleans was 3-for-3 on fourth down conversions - New Orleans dominated time of possession.
And Brees, coming off the most prolific passing season in NFL history in the regular season, did his usual number on the Lions' defense, completing 33 of 43 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns as New Orleans beat Detroit for the season time this season, including a 31-17 regular-season win on Dec. 4. New Orleans ammassed 628 yards total offense.
It was a different story from a year ago when, in a 41-36 wildcard loss to the Seahawks, New Orleans' injury-depleted running backs managed just 77 yards and threw on nearly 80 percent of its plays.
This time, the Saints had balance. And the Brees-led offense turned it up a notch in the second half, outscoring the Lions 35-14 after halftime.
New Orleans, which only fumbled six times during the regular season, had to overcome two lost fumbles in the first half as Detroit built a 14-7 lead and a 14-10 halftime lead.
But Brees hit Devery Henderson for 41 yards and a touchdown on the Saints first second-half possession to give New Orleans a 17-14 lead it would not relinquish.
Matthew Stafford passed for 380 yards and three touchdowns for Detroit, but threw two second-half interceptions as the Saints maintained possession of the ball. New Orleans ran 81 plays to 53 for Detroit and held the ball for 37:36.
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