The reigning Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints have been dethroned. Who is going to say the Seahawks don’t belong in the playoffs now?
Seattle came into the game as the only team to make it in with a sub-.500 record, including a 34-19 loss to the Saints in Week 11, and were 11-point underdogs at home against New Orleans.
One record, however, was in Seattle’s favor. The Saints franchise was 0-3 on the road in the playoffs. With a 41-36 Seahawks win, go ahead and make that 0-4.
As great as the result was for Seattle, the start was the polar opposite. The game began with an Olindo Mare kickoff going out of bounds. With a short field, the defense was able to stop the Saints in the red zone for a short field goal, something that would continue to play out throughout the game. Up 3-0, New Orleans was given another short field three plays later when a Matt Hasselbeck pass went off the fingertips of Ben Obomanu and intercepted.
The Saints widened their lead to 10-0 on a short pass from Drew Brees to former Seahawk Heath Evans. With less than 10 minutes gone by in the game, it was a familiar start for Seattle. It was the kind of start that for so many games in the regular season had ended in a loss.
After the game one of the things Hasselbeck mentioned was that coach Pete Carroll always drills into them the idea that no matter what happens in the first 15 minutes, it doesn’t solidify the final outcome.
“That’s one of Pete’s messages,” said Hasselbeck. “One is that you can’t win or lose the game in the first quarter. You gotta win it in the fourth.”
Needing a score to get back into the game, Hasselbeck quickly led the team down the field and finished by throwing a touchdown pass over the middle to John Carlson. The first quarter ended with the Saints leading 10-7.
The Saints bounced right back to a 10-point lead, but Seattle’s offense came right back with a score of their own. Bouncing back from a 10-point deficit a second time, the Seahawks defense got a much needed three-and-out aided by a false start penalty. The penalty added more fuel to the assistance by the Seatte’s 12th Man, and the defense was feeding off the energy of the crowd.
With the Seahawks offense unable to take advantage of the change in possession, Raheem Brock helped put the team into scoring position by forcing a Julius Jones fumble. Already in the red zone, the Seahawks offense played conservative, running on three straight plays to settle for a 29-yard Mare field goal to tie the game.
Brock and the Seahawks defense continued their aggressive play and once again forced the Saints to three-and-out capped by a seven-yard sack on third down.
In their final possession of the first half, Seattle drove the ball to midfield before Hasselbeck went deep for Brandon Stokley on a 45-yard touchdown pass. Stokley was able to get behind three Saints defenders to haul in the deep pass for the score.
With just over a minute remaining in the half, New Orleans responded by driving 77 yards, but were stopped three yards short of a touchdown with three seconds left on the clock. That forced a 22-yard field goal to end the half, and Seattle went into the locker room at halftime up 24-20 with the opportunity to receive the second half kickoff.
A Mike Williams 38-yard touchdown catch on the opening drive followed by another Mare field goal allowed the Seahawks to begin to pull away in the third quarter. All the while, the defense shut down Brees and the Saints, giving Seattle a two-touchdown lead going into the fourth quarter.
But just when fans could start feeling a little bit comfortable about the potential for a playoff win, the game intensified when former-Seahawk Jones picked up his second rushing touchdown, followed by a Seattle three-and-out.
The Seahawks defense got another big stop inside the 5-yard line to force the Saints to kick their third field goal of the game, all of them less than 30 yards. Even with that stop, it felt as though the Saints had the momentum and plenty of time to make the comeback. With nine minutes remaining, the two teams traded punts and the score held at 34-30. With four minutes left on the clock, Marshawn Lynch went into “beast mode.”
After being stifled for no gain on first down, Lynch took the next handoff and burst up the middle and into the secondary. After already shedding at least four defenders, Lynch not only stiff armed but shoved cornerback Tracy Porter onto his back. While Lynch was putting Porter into the ground, it allowed half the offensive line, joined by Hasselbeck and Williams to continue to block on their way to a huge end zone celebration after the 67-yard run.
Not only was it likely the greatest run ever by a Seahawk, Deion Sanders called it the best run he’s ever seen in the playoffs.
Up 41-30, it couldn’t have come at a better time. With more than three minutes left and the Saints ability to score quickly, Seahawks fans were enjoying the moment but not yet celebrating the win. It wasn’t over until New Orleans failed on a two-point conversion, then booted the onside kick attempt directly into the hands of John Carlson.
Qwest Field went bonkers. The Seahawks had done the improbable. Forget the regular season, the Hawks postseason record is now 1-0.
The day was just an unbelievably energetic, electric day here at the stadium,” said Carroll. “But our fans and our players played together today in a way that gave us a chance to beat a championship club.”
For as much trash talk as football fans throughout the league have dished out toward the NFC West, Mike Sando of ESPN pointed out after the game that the division is 9-5 in the playoffs since 2005—the best in the NFL. The AFC North is slightly behind in terms of winning percentage, at 10-6.
In an interview with NFL Network after the game, Hasselbeck didn’t shy away from announcing who he’d prefer to see next in the playoffs.
“I do have a preference. If we get to play Chicago, then I think there’s a chance that we can host another game here in the playoffs,” said Hasselbeck. “It has nothing to do with Chicago or Atlanta, I would just love to come back and play a game at Qwest.
As improbable as this win was, why not think ahead to the potential of the team returning to Seattle to host the Packers for a chance at this year’s Super Bowl. It’s not impossible. That same situation played out for the No. 4-seed Arizona Cardinals in 2008.
As they move on to the next round of the playoffs, the Seahawks are in a position where they have absolutely no pressure to win. While Seattle has played in two games in a row where elimination means going home, they will now face either the Bears or Falcons. Both teams have yet to play in a game this year with that type of meaning. It’s the same type of momentum that carried the Cardinals in their Super Bowl run, and this year’s Seahawks hope to ride that same wave.
Brandan Schulze is a Navy veteran and member of the military chapter of the Sea Hawkers, the official booster club for the Seattle Seahawks. For more information on the chapter, visit www.militaryseahawkers.ning.com. Membership is free for all military service members and veterans.