Saints march in to face Niners on record run

Drew Brees and the explosive New Orleans Saints are pouring on the points, racking up the wins and rewriting the record books nearly every time they play. Things sure are rollin' on the river in the bayou. Now the Saints get to see what they can do out West in the city by the Bay against the 49ers and one of the few defenses that may be able to stop them.

Brees led an unstoppable offense by throwing for 466 yards and three touchdowns, and New Orleans poured it on in the second half for a 45-28 NFC wild-card victory over the Detroit Lions on Saturday night.

The victory gave the third-seeded Saints (14-3) a ticket to San Francisco to play the second-seeded 49ers (13-3) next Saturday in a titanic divisional-round showdown at Candlestick Park between two of the NFL's powerhouse of 2011.

It will also be a battle of strengths as New Orleans' NFL-best offense crashes head on into San Francisco's NFC-best defense. Or tries to fly over it.

The Saints did plenty of high-flying against the overmatched Lions at the Louisiana Superdome. New Orleans broke the postseason mark for total yards with 626, beating the record set 49 years ago.

''We were pulling out all the stops,'' Brees said. ''We play aggressive. We're not going to apologize for that. That gives guys in the huddle a lot of confidence. We're not going to pull the reins back. It's pedal to the metal.''

Brees hit on 33 of 43 passes while throwing for the most yards in a regulation playoff game. He highlighted his night with three completions of at least 40 yards.

"We just focus on winning. We're not focused on yards and records,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said. ''I'm serious when I say that.''

As usual, the quarterback had plenty of help from an offense that set an NFL record for yards from scrimmage this season (7,474).

Matthew Stafford threw for 380 yards and three TDs for the Lions (10-7), who simply could not keep pace in their first playoff appearance since the 1999 season. They have lost seven consecutive postseason games.

''It's a learning experience for the whole team. We'll get better. We'll be back,'' Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. ''Obviously it hurts right now.''

All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson had 12 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns in his playoff debut for Detroit, but that was not nearly enough as the Saints' defense responded in the fourth quarter with two interceptions by Jabari Greer.

The teams combined for 1,083 yards, tying an NFL playoff record set by Buffalo and Miami on Dec. 30, 1995.

Pierre Thomas rushed for 66 yards and one touchdown, while Sproles added 51 yards, two scores and several other clutch plays.

Marques Colston overcame an early fumble with seven catches for 120 yards, including a 40-yarder to set up Jimmy Graham's short TD grab.

Robert Meachem had four catches for 111 yards, including a 56-yard score. Devery Henderson added a 41-yard touchdown reception.

New Orleans showed guts and got a little good fortune on a decisive 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. The Saints ran Sproles around left end on fourth-and-2 at the Lions 40 and gained 3 yards. Soon after, Brees' pass as he was clobbered by Nick Fairley went right through the hands of defensive back Aaron Berry.

Berry would regret that drop two plays later as Sproles bolted 17 yards up the middle into the end zone to make it 31-21.

Stafford tried to get some of that back quickly, throwing deep for Titus Young, but Greer ran under it and picked it off. Four plays later, Brees spotted Meachem behind blown coverage for his long score to make it 38-21.

The Lions became only the second visiting team all year to lead at halftime in the Superdome, where the Saints are 9-0 this season.

"So going into halftime at a deficit, we just realized, 'Listen, just bear down, one play at a time, one drive at a time,''' Brees said, ''and I think we scored on every drive in the second half. I guess that's what you hope for.''

New Orleans, which has won nine consecutive game, walloped Detroit 35-14 after halftime.

The Saints opened the second half by driving 78 yards to take their first lead on Brees' 31-yard pass to Henderson. New Orleans then widened its lead to 24-14 with a 92-yard drive that included what may have been a favorable spot on Colston's third-down grab at the Saints 18.

Later, Brees converted a risky dive over the pile on fourth-and-1 at the New Orleans 38 to sustain the drive before finding Colston for a 40-yard gain to the Detroit 3. Brees hit Graham for a score on the next play.

''It was fourth-and-inches and we felt like we had a rhythm going,'' Brees said. "Obviously it was a gutsy call but we've been known to make those types of calls.''

The Lions fought back with a quick 80-yard scoring drive highlighted by Stafford's 42-yard completion to Johnson at the Saints 2, setting up Stafford's dive for the pylon on a bootleg that made it 24-21 late in the third quarter.

On the way to a 14-10 halftime lead, Detroit could not have planned a much better start to its first playoff game in 12 years.

Stafford complete five of his first six throws for 70 yards, starting with a 22-yard completion to Johnson on the second play from scrimmage. A 10-yard strike to reserve tight end Will Heller gave the Lions a 7-0 lead.

New Orleans responded by quickly driving into Lions territory, but Colston was stripped by Stephen Tulloch on the 18-yard line and Justin Durant recovered. It was a rare lost fumble for the Saints, who had an NFL-low and franchise record low five during the regular season.

New Orleans found the end zone on its next drive to tie it at 7, but Stafford led the Lions right back downfield, hitting Johnson in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard score.

The Saints then fumbled a second time in Detroit territory when Brees was stripped just before throwing by defensive end Willie Young and the ball squirted to Durant for his second recovery. Durant wanted to return it, but the play was inexplicably blown dead. What might have been a touchdown return instead became a stalled drive.

The Saints thought they had tied it when Colston's catch in the back of the end zone was ruled a touchdown, but it was overturned on replay and New Orleans wound up settling for John Kasay's 24-yard field goal and the four-point halftime deficit.

The Saints wouldn't have any problem finding the end zone in the second half. But it might not be as easy as it was in the Big Easy next week in San Francisco.

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