SAINTS DEFENSE: Credit defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and the players for setting the tone early and often with quick, physical plays. Not good that Roman Harper was burned on the only touchdown allowed in the first half, but that’s what happens when bad coverage guys are on the field and they fall during a play. The defense did a great job of rushing the passer and stopping the run. Great job.
SAINTS RB MARK INGRAM: Ingram did his job. He ran tough, hard and fast whenever he got the opportunity. He has earned the right to be the bell cow running back. He has done more in the second half of the season than he did in his career combined to that point. Most of the remaining teams in the playoffs have a running-back-by-committee approach. It’s just a thought. Make Ingram the man and spell him from time to time during the game. It’s time to Wally Pipp Pierre Thomas.
SAINTS TE JIMMY GRAHAM: Graham caught a break when he had a fumble overturned in the second quarter. He has to remember there is a fine line between trying hard and trying to do too much in the playoffs. Still, he was a factor the entire game. His ability to make catches over the middle helped open up receivers for man coverage on the outside. He also was a good blocker. Graham is the kind of tight end that championship teams build around.
SAINTS QB DREW BREES: Simply put, Brees tried too hard to be a hero in the first half, and the result was two interceptions, which could have been the team’s downfall were it not for the strong play of the defense. He has to remember you can’t force throws — period. His first interception was when he tried to force a deep ball. His second interception was when he stared down a receiver. Future Hall of Fame quarterbacks usually don’t make those mistakes in the playoffs, where every play is magnified. Credit Brees for manning up and playing great in the second half. It shows his character and leadership.
SAINTS COACH SEAN PAYTON: As usual, there were times when Payton fell in love with the pass too much. Why stop running the ball if the opposing defense has shown it can’t stop it? It’s not a crime for a team to run the ball more than two times in a row on a possession. He has to remember that finesse teams rarely win championships. The offensive line has improved at run blocking all season long. It deserves the chance to continue doing that.
THE MISSED OPPORTUNITIES EARLY: As fun as it was to watch Philadelphia in the regular season, the fact remains that the Eagles weren’t ready for prime time in the playoffs. That’s why the Saints needed to get off to a fast start in the first half.