Brees threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns while Thomas made 12 receptions for 171 yards, including the game-winning touchdown, as the New Orleans Saints scored the final 20 points of the game to defeat the defending champions 20-14 in the NFC divisional playoff.
The Saints will host the Los Angeles Rams in next week’s NFC Championship game for the right to go to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. The New England Patriots will play the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles had one final chance to re-enact his heroics from last week’s wild-card win over the Chicago Bears, but the drive stalled at the New Orleans 27-yard line when his pass went through the hands of Alshon Jeffery and into the arms of Marshon Lattimore for the game-clinching interception.
Philadelphia stunned the Superdome crowd with touchdowns on their first two possessions after Brees was intercepted on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Foles found Jordan Matthews with a 37-yard touchdown pass to cap a 76-yard march after the pick by Cre’Von LeBlanc. After the Saints went three-and-out on their second possession, Foles took the Eagles 75 yards in ten plays before capping the drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak to make the score 14-0 with 4:37 to play in the opening quarter.
The Saints needed a spark and they got one early in the second quarter when head coach Sean Payton called a fake punt on 4th and 1 from the New Orleans 30-yard line. Taysom Hill picked up four yards to keep the drive alive and Brees found Keith Kirkwood on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line to cut the Eagles lead to 14-7.
From there, New Orleans gradually took control of the game. They cut the gap to 14-10 on a 45-yard Wil Lutz field goal just before the half. On the Saints’ first drive of the second half, Brees led them on an epic 18-play, 92-yard march that chewed up 11:29 before finding Thomas from two yards out to put New Orleans up for good.
Lutz added a 39-yard field goal to provide the final margin of victory but missed a 52-yard attempt with three minutes remaining that would have made it a two-score game. That gave Foles and the Eagles one more opportunity before Lattimore intervened with his second interception of the afternoon.
Earlier Sunday, Tom Brady dissected the Los Angeles Chargers for 343 yards and a touchdown while rookie Sony Michel rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns in his first playoff game as New England cruised to a 41-28 victory at Gilette Stadium Sunday to set up a showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs next weekend.
With the win, the Patriots extended their own NFL record by reaching their eighth consecutive conference championship game and 13th in the Brady-Bill Belichick era. They’re 4-3 in the previous seven matchups over that remarkable run but lost both games that were played on the road — to Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium.
The title game will be a rematch of one of the best games of the regular season, a 43-40 New England victory over the Chiefs in Foxboro. But next week’s game will be in Kansas City and the Chiefs will have star linebacker Justin Houston, who missed the regular season matchup with an injury.
In closing out a perfect 9-0 season at home, the Patriots offense was at its high-powered best in the first half. New England scored on its first four possessions en route to a 35-7 halftime lead, rendering the second 30 minutes extended garbage time. New England went 5 for 5 in the red zone, 5 of 6 on third down and committed only one penalty.
The Patriots offense didn’t go three-and-out for the first time until its fifth offensive touch of the day when they punted with 3:32 left in the second quarter. But Ryan Allen’s 48-yard punt was fumbled by Desmond King , sending the ball rolling toward the sideline. The referees ruled the ball went out of bounds before New England’s Albert McClellan appeared to recover it. But the play was reversed after a challenge by Belichick. The turnover proved costly, with the Patriots scoring just four plays later when Michel crossed the goal line from 5 yards for his third touchdown of the half to make it 35-7.
James White caught 15 passes from Brady for 97 receiving yards, tying Darren Sproles’ record for most receptions in a playoff game. Julian Edelman also had a big game, catching nine passes for 151 yards.
Michel, the first Patriots rookie to have a playoff rushing touchdown since Robert Edwards in 1998, carried 16 times for 105 yards in the first half. He set the tone early, scoring from 1 yard on the opening possession of the game. It capped a 14-play, 83-yard drive in which he rushed five times for 15 yards and had a 9-yard reception.
The Patriots added scoring drives of 67, 58 and 87 yards to bury Los Angeles in the first 24 minutes of the game. Michel climaxed the 67-yard drive with a 14-yard scoring dash, while Brady found Phillip Dorsett from 15 yards out to wrap up the 58-yard march and Rex Burkhead carried over from six yards out to conclude the 87-yard drive.
By contrast, the Chargers offense went as cold as the kickoff temperature after Philip Rivers found Keenan Allen for a 43-yard touchdown on the visitors’ opening possession. Los Angeles did not cross midfield until late in the third quarter when Rivers engineered the first of three second-half touchdown drives that helped to make the score more respectable.
Rivers finished his day 25 of 51 for 331 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He is 0-5 in games played at Gillette Stadium, including 0-3 in the postseason. He is 1-8 against New England all-time. The Chargers lost for just the second time on the road and first time outside Los Angeles. They have not reached the AFC Championship Game since 2007.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.