Saints open playoffs with 45-28 win over Lions
Things sure are rollin' on the river.
Brees led an unstoppable offense by throwing for 466 yards and three touchdowns, and New Orleans dominated the second half for a 45-28 NFC wild-card victory over the Detroit Lions on Saturday night.
New Orleans broke the postseason mark for total yards with 626, beating the record set 49 years ago.
"We were pulling out all the stops," Brees said. "We play aggressive. We're not going to apologize for that. That gives guys in the huddle a lot of confidence. We're not going to pull the reins back. It's pedal to the medal."
Brees hit on 33 of 43 passes while throwing for the most yards in a regulation playoff game. He highlighted his night with three completions of at least 40 yards.
"We just focus on winning. We're not focused on yards and records," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I'm serious when I say that."
As usual, the quarterback had plenty of help from an offense that set an NFL record for yards from scrimmage this season (7,474), outgaining Detroit on the ground 167 yards to 32. The Saints (14-3) will travel to San Francisco (13-3) for next Saturday's second-round game.
Matthew Stafford threw for 380 yards and three TDs for the Lions (10-7), who simply could not keep pace in their first playoff appearance since the 1999 season. They have lost seven straight postseason games.
"It's a learning experience for the whole team. We'll get better. We'll be back," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "Obviously it hurts right now."
All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson had 12 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns in his playoff debut for Detroit, but that was not nearly enough as the Saints' defense responded in the fourth quarter with two interceptions by Jabari Greer.
"We did make the playoffs this year and that's a great accomplishment," Johnson said. "We have some things to work on and we will. We know what we have to do to make the next step."
The teams combined for 1,038 yards, tying an NFL playoff record set by Buffalo and Miami on Dec. 30, 1995. The Superdome will likely host a much different contest on Monday night, when defensive stalwarts LSU and Alabama meet for the BCS national title. Fans in the dome cheered wildly for the LSU band as it played before the game and at halftime, then enjoyed a second half that culminated in what they hope will be the first of two Big Easy celebrations in three nights.
Pierre Thomas finished with 66 yards and one touchdown rushing, while Darren Sproles added 51 yards, two scores and several other clutch plays.
Marques Colston overcame an early fumble with seven catches for 120 yards, including a 40-yarder to set up Jimmy Graham's short TD grab.
Robert Meachem had four catches for 111 yards, including a 56-yard score. Devery Henderson added a 41-yard touchdown reception.
New Orleans showed guts and got a little good fortune on a decisive 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. The Saints ran Sproles around the left end on fourth-and-2 at the Lions 40 and gained 3 yards. Soon after, Brees' pass as he was clobbered by Nick Fairley went right through the hands of defensive back Aaron Berry.
Berry would regret that drop two plays later as Sproles bolted 17 yards to make it 31-21.
Stafford tried to get some of that back quickly, throwing deep for Titus Young, but Greer ran under it and picked it off. Four plays later, Brees spotted Meachem behind blown coverage for his long score to make it 38-21.
The Lions became only the second visiting team all year to lead at halftime in the Superdome, where the Saints were unbeaten during the regular season.
"So going into halftime at a deficit, we just realized, 'Listen, just bear down, one play at a time, one drive at a time,'" Brees said, "and I think we scored on every drive in the second half. I guess that's what you hope for."
New Orleans has won nine in a row overall.
The Saints opened the second half by driving 78 yards to take their first lead on Brees' 31-yard pass to Henderson. New Orleans then widened its lead to 24-14 with a 92-yard drive that included what may have been a favorable spot on Colston's third-down grab at the Saints 18. Later, Brees converted a risky dive over the pile on fourth-and-1 at the New Orleans 38 to sustain the drive before finding Colston for a 40-yard gain to the Detroit 3. Brees hit Graham for a score on the next play.
"It was fourth and inches and we felt like we had a rhythm going," Brees said. "Obviously it was a gutsy call but we've been known to make those types of calls."
The Lions fought back with a quick 80-yard scoring drive highlighted by Stafford's 42-yard completion to Johnson at the Saints 2, setting up Stafford's dive for the pylon on a bootleg that made it 24-21 late in the third quarter.
Detroit could not have planned a much better start to its first playoff game since the '99 season.
Stafford completed five of his first six throws for 70 yards, starting with a 22-yard completion to Johnson on the second play from scrimmage. A 10-yard strike to reserve tight end Will Heller gave the Lions a 7-0 lead.
New Orleans responded by quickly driving into Lions territory, but Colston was stripped by Stephen Tulloch on the 18-yard line and Justin Durant recovered. It was a rare lost fumble for the Saints, who had an NFL low and franchise record low five during the regular season.
New Orleans found the end zone on its next drive to tie it at 7, but Stafford led the Lions right back downfield, hitting Johnson in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard score.
The Saints then fumbled a second time in Detroit territory when Brees was stripped just before throwing by defensive end Willie Young and the ball squirted to Durant for his second recovery. Durant wanted to return it, but the play was inexplicably blown dead. What might have been a touchdown return instead became a stalled drive.
The Saints thought they had tied it when Colston's catch in the back of the end zone was ruled a touchdown, but it was overturned on replay and New Orleans wound up settling for John Kasay's 24-yard field goal and a 14-10 halftime deficit.
Notes: Bernie Kosar still holds the record for yards passing in a playoff game, though his game in 1986 went to overtime when he reached 489 for Cleveland against the New York Jets. ... Detroit's leading rusher was Kevin Smith with only 21 yards. ... The Lions rushed the ball only 10 times and their longest gain was 9 yards. ... The Saints surpassed 500 total offensive yards in five regular season games, with the playoff game being the sixth. ... Brees finished the regular season with seven straight 300-yard or more passing games and easily continued the streak against the Lions.