The New Orleans Saints needed someone, anyone, to spark a comeback from their fearful 14-0 deficit Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
That someone turned out to be cornerback Marshon Lattimore. He also turned out to be the man in the right spot to rescue their endangered 20-14 lead as the Eagles were trying to drive for the winning touchdown.
“The defense on a couple of occasions this year has come up with big turnovers at critical times to seal the deal or set up game-winners,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.
Lattimore did both.
Dennis Allen knew this week was going to give his Saints defense a unique challenge.
Big play No. 1 came when Lattimore leaped high into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome’s temperature-controlled air to intercept a Nick Foles pass intended for tight end Zach Ertz. Lattimore landed at his 21, the launching point for a 79-yard drive marked by two fourth-down conversions that allowed the Saints to pull within 14-7 with 7:23 left in the second.
“We were in Cover 2,” Lattimore said of the first interception. “The tight end was on a wheel route, and I was able to step up and make a play.”
Eagles coach Doug Peterson said the game “kind of changed at that point. Credit the Saints for executing.”
Big play No. 2 came with just less than two minutes remaining. After Wil Lutz was wide right on a 52-yard field-goal try that would have given New Orleans a 23-14 lead, the Eagles moved from their 42 to the Saints 27 on a pass to Ertz and a roughing the passer penalty on Marcus Davenport.
On second-and-10, Foles looked in the left flat for wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who reportedly played with cracked ribs. It looked for a split second as though Jeffery would make a short gain, but the ball went through his hands and into Lattimore’s as he trailed the play at the 19. Lattimore returned the ball to his 33 from where the Saints ran out the clock for the six-point victory.
“That’s a once in a lifetime thing,” said Lattimore, who equaled his interception total from the regular season with Sunday’s double-clutch effort. “Alshon is a great receiver. Great hands. But things happen.”
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Good things happened for the Saints’ pass defense after so many bad things happened on the Eagles’ first two drives, including an apparent Achilles’ tendon tear by defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
Foles threw for 153 yards in the first quarter but only 48 yards the rest of the way, Lattimore’s first interception setting the tone.
“We really didn’t make too many adjustments,” Lattimore said. “We just started playing better. We just knew we had to go in and play with some swag and be vicious with their receivers.”
The end result was exactly the turnover the Saints needed.
“That’s what Buckeyes do,” said Saints wide receiver and fellow Ohio State standout Michael Thomas. “That’s a testament to not folding, not getting frustrated. I thought he grew up today.”
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