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Playoff Game: Saturday, January 3, 1993 - Philadelphia @ New Orleans
The 1992 Saints' 12 victories equaled the most in a regular season in club history. (The '87 team went 12-2.) Their nemeses, as usual, were the San Francisco 49ers who won 14 games, including two hard-fought games over the Saints, 16-10 and 21-20. As the wild card team with the best record, the Saints hosted the 11-5 Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles and Saints had opened the regular season in Philly with the home team registering a 15-13 victory. The Eagles had dominated the statistics: 21-8 first downs, 320-202 total yards, 37:45 time of possession to 22:15. NO QB Bobby Hebert completed only 12 of 30 passes with two interceptions and only one touchdown, which came in the fourth quarter to make the final margin closer. The Eagles hurt themselves with three costly turnovers, two of which came deep in NO territory with the third leading to a Saints field goal.
If misery loves company, the Eagles were a perfect fit for the Saints. Both teams had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs three straight times. That led to the firing of coach Buddy Ryan and the hiring of Rich Kotite before the 1991 season. The Eagles hadn't won a postseason game since 1981 and hadn't won one on the road since the NFL Championship Game in 1949 when none of the current players were born. So both teams wanted to break through to the "next level" of teams that consistently make the playoffs and win at least one game.
The Saints defense, led by the Dome Patrol linebackers, all four of whom made the Pro Bowl, were dedicated to doing a better job shutting down the Philly running game after Herschel Walker gained 112y in the first meeting. "They really ripped us running the football, as bad as we've been ripped in some time against our regular (3-4) defense," said Coach Jim Mora. "We've had some problems when we have tried to stop the pass. We lined up in the nickle (five defensive backs), and people had some success running on us. But the Eagles ripped our best defense."

L-R: Sam Mills, Pat Swilling, Rickey Jackson, Vaughn Johnson
However, Mora said there would be no drastic changes in the main defensive scheme. "I see no reason to change anything because we've prepared the same way and won 12 games this year. We'll try to play it better than we did the first time ... That's the only thing we can do."
Philadelphia entered the playoffs on a four-game winning streak thanks mostly to a resurgent defense, which had held opponents to an average of 14.3 ppg during the streak.
To win their first playoff game, the Saints would have to do a better job of stopping the Eagles' running game and contain QB Randall Cunningham, an excellent scrambler. On the other side of the ball, the Saints offensive line, which led the league in fewest sacks allowed (15), must neutralize the Philly pass rush, which had registered a second-best 56 sacks.
A sellout crowd of 68,893 saw a defensive battle that was blown wide open in the final quarter.
First Quarter
The Saints took the kickoff and drove smartly 72y to a touchdown. The key plays were passes. On 3rd-and-9 from the shotgun, 270lb FB Craig Heyward blocked, then leaked out to the right to take a pass from QB Bobby Hebert. "Iron Head" steamed to the Eagle 47, running through several tacklers along the way. Two plays later, WR Quinn Early made a leaping catch over the middle to the 33. Then Hebert connected with his favorite receiver, Eric Martin, down the middle to the 13. Bobby overthrew Martin, but rookie CB Mark McMillian was called for interference to put the ball on the one. Heyward followed an excellent block by HB Dalton Hilliard on LB Seth Joiner into the end zone. Saints 7 Eagles 0 (9:20)
Herschel Walker started at TB for the Eagles but found heavy going on the first two plays, gaining two on a rush and a yard on a swing pass. Licking their chops on 3rd-and-7, the Saints put pressure on QB Randall Cunningham, whose pass was deflected by DE Frank Warren to force a punt.
Hebert continued to throw over the middle, hitting TE Hoby Brenner for 17y to the 49. But the Eagles soon forced a punt.
Cunningham displayed his scrambling ability on successive runs of four and 15y to put the ball on the Eagle 43. He then showed off his arm by firing a strike to WR Fred Barnett streaking down the right side past LCB Toi Cook for a touchdown. Roger Ruzek converted. Saints 7 Eagles 7 (3:22)
Cook took responsibility. "Strictly my fault. I sat down in coverage and let my man run by me."
Hebert again found Martin wide open in the middle of the field for 27y to midfield. But on the next play, Bobby sidestepped a rusher and tossed to Hilliard. MLB Byron Evans stripped the ball, and CB John Booty fell on it at Eagle 39. Dalton was hurt on the play and would not return to the game.
The Saints were sowing some confusion in the Philly passing offense. On some plays, linemen Wayne Martin and Jim Wilks dropped back in coverage. Defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell also had OLBs Pat Swilling and Rickey Jackson attacking Cunningham from different angles.
The quarter ended with th Saints in possession on their 13.
End Q1: Saints 7 Eagles 7

Eagles upend Vaughn Dunbar.
Second Quarter
This period would belong to the Saints. Hebert demonstrated his nimble feet, zipping out of the pocket for 2y to avoid a sack. Then he dumped the ball to Hayward over the middle for 16y to move the chains. Continuing to find open space in the middle of the defense, Bobby hit Early between two defenders to the Eagle 49. After Iron Head gained four, Hebert rolled right and kept running until he went out of bounds at the 35. On 3rd-and-three, he found - who else? - Martin open - where else? - over the middle to the 23. But the Eagles rose up and forced a field goal of 35y by Morten Andersen. Saints 10 Eagles 7 (8:18)
At this point, the Saints had possessed the ball 16:21 to Philly's 5:13.
With the 12th Man roaring, the Black and Gold defense smothered the Eagles. First, Jackson smashed Cunningham as he tried to throw a screen pass. With the crowd even louder because grounding wasn't called, Heath Sherman gained four. But that was wiped out by a delay of game penalty before the next snap. Cunningham then threw into double coverage to Barrett and was lucky the pass wasn't intercepted. So the Saints got the ball at their 47 on the punt.
Hebert faked a handout, then found Early on the right sideline to 20y. With the Eagles on their heels, RB Vaughn Dunbar roared through a big hole for nine, then gained a tough two to put the ball on the seven. Bobby rolled to his left and flipped a pass into the end zone to Early, who grabbed it despite DB Eric Allen grabbing his arm. CBS announcer John Madden said, "Hebert is feeling more and more comfortable." Saints 17 Eagles 7 (4:14)
The 17 points were the most the Saints had scored in any half during the season.
"We were biting on the play-action, and they were hitting the seam routes in the first half," said LB Seth Joyner. "But really we had a lot of mental mistakes in the first half. Guys were just letting their men go, and Hebert's a good quarterback at finding mistakes."
The Saints hoped to force a three-and-out and get the ball back with enough time to add at least a field goal to their margin. The Eagles got one first down on three runs by Sherman before having to punt. Jeff Feagles threw a monkey wrench into the NO plan by booming the ball to the Saints 11, Newman returning to the 18.
The Saints got one first down before punting. The Eagles ended up throwing a Hail Mary from midfield that fell incomplete.
The Saints finished the half with 250y of offense to just 121 for the Eagles, with 56 coming on the TD pass. Hebert completed 13 of 19 passes for 187y. NO had 14 first downs to four for the visitors.
End Q2: Saints 17 Eagles 7
Earlier in the day, Buffalo had rallied from a 35-3 hole to beat the Houston Oilers 41-38. So Coach Kotite used that game to inspire his players. "I said, 'Buffalo was down 35-3 and came back to win the game. We're down 10 points. What's the big deal?"
Third Quarter
Would the momentum the Saints built at the end of the first half carry over? It did for a while.
The Eagles got away from the run quickly in the first half but made more of a commitment to it in the second. They also began throwing underneath the coverage. Racking up four first downs, they drove from their 20 to the NO 25. But the drive ended abruptly when Jackson beat T Antone Davis with a quick inside move to sack Cunningham and force a fumble that Wayne Martin recovered on the 31.
The Saints drove to the Eagle 34. Then a penalty made it first-and-five on the 29. Heyward and Dunbar each gained two on consecutive carries. On 3rd-and-one, Hebert handed to Dunbar heading off right tackle. DE Reggie White, stunting with DT Mike Golic, collapsed the pocket and forced Dunbar to slide outside. LB Ken Rose, in on short yardage situations, filled the gap and got a piece of Dunbar. Just as Vaughn lowered to drive for the first down, DB William Frizzell drilled him, knocking his legs out from under him to stop him shy of the sticks. "I thought we made it," said C Joel Hilgenberg. "Everybody said we got a bad spot." (Replay showed it was.) Even a Philadelphia writer said the spot was "questionable." So the Saints settled for Andersen's 42y field goal. Saints 20 Eagles 7 (6:28)
The defense continued the Saints' momentum by forcing a three-and-out.
No one realized it at the time, but the Eagles' comeback began on the first play of the next Saints' possession. Hoping to fool the defense, who had every reason to expect the Saints to play conservatively with a 13-point lead, Hebert threw long on first down only to have the ball sail over the receiver to DB Eric Allen inside the Eagles' 40 with 5:06 left in the period.
"That was the play that did it," White said.
Eagles LB Byron Evans: "It's all about pressure. Pressure makes water run uphill. You could just see Hebert start panicking, and then he started throwing the ball around the field."
Mixing runs and passes to the backs, Philly mounted a nine-play drive that stalled at the NO 23. So Roger Ruzek booted a 40y field goal. Saints 20 Eagles 10 (1:01)
The Saints faced third-and-one when the period ended after they gained only 48y and made one first down. End Q3: Saints 20 Eagles 10
Philly defensive coordinator Bud Carson blitzed more after halftime and when the Eagles didn't, they showed blitz in an effort to rattle the Saints. "At halftime, we were disappointed because we gave up some big plays," said White. "They didn't do anything special. We just left some guys open. It wasn't a major adjustment; it was an attitude adjustment really. When we left the locker room, all the guys were looking at each other saying, 'I'm gonna make a big play.'"
Fourth Quarter
Perhaps spooked by what happened on Dunbar's 3rd-and-one run in the third quarter, Hebert called a pass instead of handing the ball to 280lb Heyward but missed Martin over the middle.
The Eagles started from their 36 after the punt. On third-and-five, Cunningham fired to WR Calvin Williams at the sideline for 8y to move the chains to the 49. After two runs gained eight, the Eagles converted another third down when TE Keith Byars went in motion to the left and came back over the middle to take Randall's pass for 8y. After a long incompletion, T Davis was penalized 15y for hands to the head when he knocked Jackson's helmet off. Rickey still just missed getting a sack on the play.
On 2nd-and-20, Cunningham repeated the pass to Byars to the 35. With the Saints figuring the Eagles would just go for the first down, Randall threw down the left side to WR Fred Barnett who made a leaping catch at the goal line over RCB Reggie Jones and late-arriving S Gene Atkins. Saints 20 Eagles 17 (10:37)
Jones said the pass died in the air. "I thought I had perfect coverage, but the ball just came straight down."
On the Eagles sideline, LB Seth Joyner told White, "I'm gonna make a big play."
On the first offensive play after the touchdown, Hebert was forced from the pocket to his left and foolishly tried to throw back across his body down the middle to Martin. Joyner cut in front of the receiver, snagged the ball, and returned it 17y to the 26. Five plays later, the Eagles took their first lead. Heath Sherman, who had taken over the leading running back role from Walker in the latter part of the season, carried four times, all to his left side to stay away from Jackson. The last run resulted in a touchdown from the six. Eagles 24 Saints 20 (6:48)
Sherman explained, "Going with two tights (in the second half) messed them up. That kept those two outside linebackers (Jackson and Swilling) covered, and we took advantage of that inside. I remember once where Swilling came up so fast, I just cut it back inside and gained 10 yards."
Coach Kotite: "It wasn't really in the plan to run Heath that much. But he had a hot hand, and I just kept feeding him the ball."
Saints DE Frank Warren explained: "Coming into the game, we knew they'd be running Sherman quite a bit. And we knew that you just can't go into a game paying all your attention to Herschel. The last time we played, they beat us running the ball well inside. Lately, they've been getting the ball more to the corner. Today they did it. They were able to break outside of our force and gain some yards."
Walker gained 114 of his season total of 1,017y against the Saints in the season opener but got only 12 in the playoff game.
The game had flipped 180°. Just as the Saints defense smothered the Eagles in the second period, the visitors were now manhandling the home team offense.
Reggie White pancaked RT Stan Brock and sacked Hebert for a safety. Eagles 26 Saints 20 (5:36)
"When we got the safety, I knew we won," White said. "I knew that was it."
Reggie expressed sympathy for Hebert after the game because the Saints got away from the successful running game and forced their quarterback to do too many things. "I feel especially for Bobby," White said. "He played above the pressure today. I really believe that. It's gonna be tough down here, especially for Bobby. I know it wasn't easy for us when we lost at home. It's football."
The Eagles took the free kick and drove into field goal range in seven plays. Sherman ran four times, one of which was off the right side. If you were told before the game that an Eagle back would rush for 100y, you would have picked Walker. But now Sherman had 106y. Herschel came in and ran three times with Swilling getting some satisfaction on third-and-two to throw him for a 2y loss. So Rucker punched through a 39y field goal. Eagles 29 Saints 20 (2:36)
Just when Saints fans were resigned to defeat when trailing by nine points, the miserable half got worse. Hebert threw short under pressure right to Eric Allen, who ran 18y untouched to pay dirt. Eagles 36 Saints 20 (2:17)
Passing on every play, the Saints moved to the Phily eight before time ran out to make the final statistics look better.
The 26 points the Eagles scored in the fourth quarter was more points than the Saints had allowed in an entire game all season.
The Eagles gained 228y in the second half, almost double what they got in the first 30 minutes.
Hebert finished the second half with only 10 completions in 20 attempts for 104y, most of which came on the final drive after the issue was decided.
FINAL SCORE: EAGLES 36 SAINTS 20

Postgame

Saints Locker Room
Coach Mora: "Those turnovers there in the second half hurt us and got them back in the game. That gave them some momentum."
Bobby Hebert was unapologetic. "I don't have any monkeys on my back. I played my hardest, and I left everything out on the field. You have to just go forward because not everything's going to work out in life."
TE Hoby Brenner: "We ran a little bit more play-action in the first half, but we had the ball more, too. When you don't have it as much, that kind of dictates what you can do. Once you get in a passing mode against this team, you can't survive against their defense."
DB Toi Cook on the playoff monkey riding the Saints' back: "It's like King Kong and his baby twin-King Kong II." On the fourth quarter collapse, he added: "This is abnormal for us, but when you get in the playoffs, you have to polay good teams. They just out-executed us in the second half."
Quinn Early caught a team-high seven passes for 93y. "I think we were confident coming out for the second half. We were fired up and focused, but they made some big plays when they needed them and stopped us."
Pat Swilling: "They caught us in some defenses in the second half, and they took advantage of it."
Sam Mills, who had eight tackles, minced no words. "I don't like to think of this team as a team that chokes, but we played a horrible second half. ... That's why we didn't win."
Eagles Locker Room
Coach Kotite: "We came down here in a hostile environment, and we didn't play not to lose. ... I thought in the fourth quarter we were in excellent shape, and I thought it showed. Nothing against them, but our guys came on strong in the third and fourth quarter. I've always believed we're an excellent conditioned football team, and I think it showed today. ... I'll tell you, you're not involved with too many great wins like this one. This is a great win, and it's a great win in the playoffs."
WR Fred Barnett made a scathing remark about the home team. "As a team, we knew exactly what we had to do. In the third quarter, we were sitting on the bench, and Randall looked over at me and said, 'You know, we're going to win this game, don't you?' That shows the character of this team. We didn't give up although it looked like the Saints gave up."
Reggie White spoke about the extra inspiration the Eagles had for the game. They wanted to keep alive a season they had dedicated to the memory of All-Pro DT Jerome Brown, who was killed in an offseason automobile accident. They set up a locker filled with Brown's memorabilia in the dressing room. "I think it was a great move," said Reggie. "When we came in here, it was there. It was excellent for giving us motivation. Plus Jerome's dad was here." He added that the Eagles had spotted a banner during pregame warmups. It said, "Jerome was an Eagle. Now he's a Saint." That angered the Eagles. "That pretty much showed no respect from the fans," said White. "That pretty much got us hot."


Bobby Hebert


Rich Kotite


Herschel Walker


Jim Mora


Randall Cunningham


Craig Heyward


Quinn Early


Dalton Hilliard


Hoby Brenner


Tori Cook


Wayne Martin


Reggie White


Jim Wilks


Morten Andersen


Reggie Jones


Eric Allen exults after pick six.