Saints march into NFC title game
By By BARRY WILNER, AP Football Writer
NEW ORLEANS — Deuce McAllister delivered on the promise his more-celebrated running mate made before this season, carrying the New Orleans Saints where they’ve never been before — one game from the Super Bowl.
McAllister and rookie sensation Reggie Bush led the Saints past the Philadelphia Eagles 27-24 Saturday and into the NFC championship game, a reversal of fortune for the team and the city.
To constant chants of ‘‘DEUCE!’’ or ‘‘REG-GIE! REG-GIE!’’ the Saints rallied with an assortment of big plays that even featured backup tight end Billy Miller, a rarely used target. But it was the veteran McAllister with his two touchdowns and team playoff mark of 143 yards rushing, and the rookie Bush with his collection of magnificent moves, that made the difference in the raucous Superdome.
All season, the Saints have been at the heart of New Orleans’ revival from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Now, the franchise best known for four decades of failure, for the ’Aints and fans wearing paper bags, will either play at Chicago or host Seattle, depending on the outcome of the other NFC division round game Sunday.
With victory secured for the Saints (11-6) on McAllister’s powerful rushes for a clinching first down to run out the clock, team owner Tom Benson did his ‘‘Benson Boogie’’ on the field. The players hugged and saluted their long-suffering fans while a jazz band belted out tunes.
Who needs Mardi Gras when you have a Super Bowl contender?
Even after Drew Brees’ high pitchout got away from Bush with 3:18 remaining and Philadelphia recovering, the Saints would not be denied. Their defense held Brian Westbrook, who was brilliant for the Eagles (11-7), near midfield.
McAllister became the first Saints player to rush for more than 100 yards in the playoffs.
The Eagles, who won six in a row after losing quarterback Donovan McNabb, got a superb performance from Westbrook, who rushed for 116 yards and scored twice, including a 62-yard run that was a franchise playoff record.
Quarterback Jeff Garcia’s run of success ended, but he combined with former Saints receiver Donte’ Stallworth on an Eagles-record 75-yard touchdown in the first half.
McAllister, who missed 11 games last season with a knee injury, has been overshadowed by the spectacular Bush and surprising seventh-round draft pick Marques Colston. But he came through when he was needed most against the NFC’s hottest team.