Drew Brees was at his imperious best on Saturday night as he threw three touchdown passes to lead his New Orleans Saints to a 45-28 victory over the Detroit Lions in the NFL wild-card match which sets up a meeting with the San Francisco 49ers next weekend.
The Saints, Super Bowl champions two years ago, raced into the post-season as the NFL's hottest team and rode that momentum to a ninth straight win to set up a divisional showdown against the 49ers on Saturday.
"I feel like our offense, our team, is built for whatever conditions," Brees said. "We play indoors here but we feel we're the type of team that should be able to go anywhere, any time and play the type of football we know how to play. We scored on every drive in the second half. I guess that's what you hope for."
Only four quarterbacks have passed for over 5,000 yards in a single NFL season and two of them, Brees and Lions' Matthew Stafford, were on the field in New Orleans, promising a night of offensive fireworks at the Louisiana Superdome. As usual, it was Brees at the controls of the NFL's top offense, providing most of the pyrotechnics as the Saints attack piled up a post-season record of 626 total yards.
Brees, who set the new single season passing mark, zeroed in on some play-off records, completing 33 of 43 passes for 466 yards, the second most in the NFL post-season behind Bernie Kosar's 489 with the Cleveland Browns.
After a slow start, the Saints were unstoppable in the second half, when Brees had all his touchdown passes, including a 56-yarder to Robert Meachem and a 41-yard strike to Devery Henderson, as New Orleans outscored Detroit 35-14 over the final two quarters.
Jimmy Graham was also on the receiving end of a Brees touchdown pass while Darren Sproles ran for a pair of scores and Pierre Thomas added one late in the game.
"I thought the big plays in the second half really helped us," said the Saints coach, Sean Payton. "Us being able to come out to get those two [touchdowns] and we took the lead, it was really the tale of two halves. "I think Detroit played extremely well in the first half, forced some turnover, made enough big plays offensively and really had control of the game. But we were lucky enough to get that momentum back in the third quarter."
Stafford provided his share of thrills, completing 28 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns, one to Will Heller and a pair to the NFL's leading receiver Calvin Johnson, who had 12 catches for 211 yards in his play-off debut.
The Lions pounced early, Stafford hitting Heller with a 10-yard touchdown strike to cap an opening 80-yard drive. In the second quarter, Brees had New Orleans' powerhouse attack back in gear, marching the Saints 89 yards with the diminutive Sproles scampering the final two yards. But Detroit, appearing in the play-offs for the first time since 1999, quickly regained control, and went into the intermission leading 14-10.
Brees came out gunning in the second half and despite Stafford engineering an 80-yard drive to restrict the gap to three going into the final quarter, the Lions ultimately had no answer to the explosive Saints' high-octane attack.
In Saturday's other game, the Houston Texans beat the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10. Last night, Eli Manning threw for three touchdowns as the New York Giants routed the Atlanta Falcons 24-2 in the NFC wild-card game.
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