Saints, Eagles confront another 1st-round barrier Frustrated teams go head-to-head


NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles will try to exorcise first-round postseason demons today when they meet in an NFC wild-card game in the Superdome.

The Eagles (11-5) have been bounced out in the first round in their last three trips to the playoffs in 1988, 1989 and 1990. The Saints (12-4) were knocked out in the first round in 1987, 1990 and last year.

Who's more frustrated?

"I guess each town is frustrated," said Saints linebacker Sam Mills. "But the key point here is that this game is in our place."

New Orleans fans will take any edge they can get. Their Saints are the only one of 28 NFL teams never to have won a playoff game.

While the city is still buzzing from Friday night's Sugar Bowl, most of the talk from the locals here is about the Saints. Not surprisingly, not all of it is positive.

"You hear people around here say all the time, 'Well, you haven't won a playoff game so you're not the team you should be.' " said Mills.

"The New Orleans Saints have to win their first playoff game," he said. "That's it, the bottom line."

The Saints' futility, of course, brings a unique burden. Said Saints outside linebacker Pat Swilling, "There's probably a little [more] pressure on us. When you haven't won in the playoffs, there should be."

But the Saints aren't without their reasons for past failures.

Some in the organization say the 1987 playoff setback to Minnesota was a fluke because of the strike-shortened season; the 1990 loss to Chicago was doomed because of the absence of quarterback Bobby Hebert, who sat out the season in a contract dispute; and last year's loss to Atlanta was because a hurting secondary was missing three starters.

"That's all a bunch of baloney," said John Pease, New Orleans defensive line coach. "The fact is we didn't beat teams who were better than us on that day."

The Eagles, Team Turmoil, are on a semi-roll after winning their last four, including victories over the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings.

"We earned where we are right now at 11-5," said Eagles coach Rich Kotite. "But by no means are we satisfied. We have a season beginning right now. That's what we're all in it for."

"We're not going to panic," said Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham. "We know we've been to the playoffs before and lost. This time I think we're all mature.

"There are a lot of veterans on this team now. We know what we've been through in the past, and our destiny is to win the Super Bowl."

Today's game has the makings of a great defensive matchup. The Saints finished 1992 second in the NFL in total defense, allowing 254.7 yards per game, behind the league-leading Cowboys' 245.8 per game.

The Eagles, with the third best defense in the NFC, finished seventh overall, allowing 275.1 yards.

Around the league, the Eagles' front line of Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Mike Pitts and Andy Harmon backed by Mike Golic is considered peerless. The same can be said for the Saints' linebacking crew of Rickey Jackson, Vaughn Johnson, Mills and Swilling.

Perhaps the group that gives the Saints an edge is their secondary. The Saints led the NFL in pass defense. The Eagles (( ranked 12th.

The Saints' biggest fear, though, is running back Herschel Walker. Walker had 184 yards in the Eagles' 15-13 opening-season win over the Saints.

"That's definitely going to be one of the major factors," said Johnson. "We cannot allow them to just line up and pound the ball on us."

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