Chip Kelly: 'The challenge is Drew Brees'
Chip Kelly: “Tampa Bay didn't win a game in cold weather until they came in here and did it [in the 2002 NFC Championship], so we are not going to get really caught up in that one, I can tell you that.” (USA Today Images)
The Saints have never won a road playoff game in their 47-year history.
It’s a topic they’re constantly reminded of whenever they have to travel in the playoffs and an issue that’s pertinent to the Eagles, who welcome the Saints to the Linc Saturday night for Chip Kelly’s first playoff game.
The Saints, who won 11 games but clinched the sixth seed, are 3-5 on the road compared to their perfect 8-0 record at the Superdome.
Conventional wisdom says the Eagles (10-6) will have the upper hand based on location alone. The Saints, one of the top offenses yearly since Sean Payton became coach and Drew Brees became quarterback in 2006, are averaging seven points fewer on the road this year than they are at home.
The mercury is expected to dip into the teens, the kind of frigid temps the Saints usually don’t confront in the Crescent City and never in their home stadium.
Leave it to Kelly to smack conventional wisdom right in the face.
Asked Monday about the Saints’ Jekyll-and-Hyde identity for road and home games, Kelly not only dismissed the topic but also gave Eagles fans a painful reminder of what happens when an opponent invests too much faith in historical precedent.
“Tampa Bay didn't win a game in cold weather until they came in here and did it [in the 2002 NFC Championship],” Kelly said “so we are not going to get really caught up in that one, I can tell you that.”
Kudos to Kelly, a native New Englander, for knowing his Eagles history and referencing one of the franchise’s most infamous postseason losses to caution against fan overconfidence.
The 2002 Eagles were arguably Andy Reid’s most balanced team and fielded one of Big Red’s best defenses but imploded against the Jon Gruden-coached Bucs in a 27-10 loss at Veterans Stadium.
Temps dipped into the 20s by 3 p.m. kickoff at the Vet, where the Bucs had not only lost three consecutive games going in but also failed to manage one offensive touchdown, a futility streak that turned their cold-weather failures into a national storyline.
In their entire history to that point, the Bucs had just one victory in temperatures under 40 degrees and were 0-6 in postseason road games.
Kelly’s dismissal aside, the Saints have been similarly deficient in the playoffs outside of the Superdome, even in their best seasons.
In the Payton-Brees era, the Saints are 0-3 on the road in the postseason despite having the NFL’s fourth-best regular-season record, and they’ve been outscored by 40 points (116-76) in those three playoff losses.
They won the 2009 Super Bowl in an outdoor stadium, toppling Peyton Manning and the Colts, 31-17, in Miami where temperatures were in the 60s, but they’ve since lost consecutive playoff road games -- 41-36 to Seattle in the 2010 wild-card round and 36-32 to San Francisco in the divisional round.
The Saints won their first two road games this season but lost five of their last six, including defeats to the Jets -- who had lost the week before and then lost the next three after -- and the Rams, who were 6-9 at the time.
Payton on Monday was asked about any potential practice changes to prepare for the Northeast weather and outdoor stadium. Payton hinted that he would change “everything, from what we eat, the Gatorade color we are choosing, the sweats we are wearing, and we will change all of that.”
If that sounded like a smidgen of sarcasm, Payton heaped on a little more hyperbole after a follow-up question.
“No, I mean seriously, the red Gatorade that we have been drinking and the orange obviously isn’t doing it, so we are going to switch I think to green,” he said. “The night before what we eat I think is going to be changed up a bit and how we dress is going to be different. Those are things that are important.”