Seahawks 23, Saints 15: 10 Things We Learned
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Seattle Slewer
Ten things we learned from the Seahawks' 23-15 win over New Orleans Sunday that enhanced their home image while reinforcing the road profile of the Saints.
1.Seattle’s offense is a classic counterpart to a great defense.
At best, they deserve third billing, but what a supporting act the Seattle offense was Saturday.
On a day where all of the Pacific Northwest’s natural weather charms were on display and the Seahawks defense was turning in a classic effort, the Seattle offense was a tribute to control.
Not only did they not turn the ball over on a day when everything was slick and sloppy, they didn’t even hint at turning it over.
They only had 13 first downs, but they were working in such harmony with the defense that it didn’t seem to matter. Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell seemed to realize pretty clearly that the 16-point lead was going to hold up as long as they didn't turn it over, and so that was the plan. They ran solid, safe plays -- against an inspired defense -- and in the end didn't have to sweat.
Rarely have just 277 total yards in a game been used so judiciously and successfully earned.
2. Dude. Doesn’t. Lose.
It's just hard not to enjoy Russell Wilson.
Wilson’s numbers were far from impressive, yet any wire-to-wire viewing of him in action shows how much Seattle relies on him to accomplish a series of small but important tasks in the course of winning a football game.
The guy who has still never been blown out of an NFL game through two seasons and three playoff games is the guy who almost makes you believe “numbers don’t mean anything.” He only completed 9 of 18 passes, for 103 yards, only ran twice for eight yards, yet he was clearly better than Drew Brees and his 309 yards.
He makes the running game better, he gets as much as he can from a very poor set of skill players, and he's never the reason his team loses.
Andr Wilson, though, the numbers are starting to add up -- he's turned it over just once in three playoff games, and his team has won at least one playoff game in both of his first two seasons.
3. Sean Payton turned in an uncharacteristic stinker.
For a coach noted for his ballsmanship and mental acumen, Payton showed neither. In a game where he had to know that his Saints were only going to have four or five legitimate shots at scoring points, he made two disastrous field-goal calls.
The first came in the first quarter, down 3-0. After telegraphing a run on third down that went absolutely nowhere, Payton faced fourth-and-four on the 31 of Seattle. Kicking the ball into the wind, Shayne Graham kicked it wide left to the surprise of no one.
But at least that one was defensible. The second field-goal call cost them the game – this with less than 4:00 left down 16-8. Facing 4th and 11, needing a TD and a conversion to tie, Payton went for three again. The crowd got up, the kick went left, the Seahawks promptly scored the go-ahead TD and the game was effectively over.
Add that in with the Saints' exceptionally tentative first half on offense and special teams, and I don't think Payton's going to sleep well tonight.
4. It’s corny, but it’s true: no one has fans like Seattle.
It’s not just that they’re loud in Seattle, or dedicated, or colorful, although Seattle’s fans are all of those things.
They’ve just got more heart than fans in other cities.
Every shot of every Seattle fan showed someone who wasn’t mugging for the camera, self-aware, trying to impress their buddies back home. They looked into it, genuine, faces painted, characters with character. And when their voices need to be heard, they’re heard – in a way that has been quantified many times as the most important in the NFL.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt when everyone’s wearing big plastic green Seahawk ponchos and the crowd is a sea of that classic green and blue. Cool stuff. Whoever winds up visiting Washington in a week will have their hands full.
5.Having a great kicker is a must.
Shayne Graham is surely a nice man, and will kick a ball longer, harder and straighter than 99.99 percent of American humanity.
But in the playoffs, especially today’s playoffs, where there’s so little difference between a No. 1 seed and a No. 6 seed, you just have to have a superstar kicker – and Graham, in missing his two attempts, reminded you that he’s not one.
Every year two or three new great ones emerge, and sometimes they take awhile to develop – Steven Hauschka of the Seahawks being a perfect example. He had shots in Denver and Baltimore before hooking on with Seattle, where he’s now 36 of 38 this year including his three Saturday in bad conditions.
The Saints thought they had that with Garrett Hartley after a perfect postseason in their Super Bowl run, but it was clear in the three seasons that followed that he wasn’t the answer. Still, they stuck with a so-so answer, and finally cut him in December in favor of Graham. End result? A loss where six points stayed on the board thanks to Graham’s misses.
Whether it's by draft, free agency or European scouting, you just can't settle for "a guy" when one miss can ruin a season.
6. The Saints showed just how much they rely on Jimmy Graham.
Graham is a dynamic player, but he was not right physically or mentally Sunday, and the Saints’ offense took 40 minutes to figure out what they were supposed to do about it.
By that time, it was too late. Graham had one catch, an 8-yarder with seconds left where he dropped meekly to the turf – ostensibly to kill the clock, but symbolically a representation of a day bowing to the Seahawks’ will.
With the Saints basically Graham-less, Brees piled up most of his 309 yards in extended garbage time; but it took so long for them to figure out what to do that it was too late.
Considering Shayne’s lack of success, it might have been the worst performance by Grahams since the experimental stages of the now-famous snack cracker back in the 1800s. Not tasty.
7. Rob Ryan and the defense soften the blow for New Orleans fans going forward.
The Saints will have to continue to hear about their failures on the road in the playoffs until they change the narrative. But the unprecedented improvement of this year’s defense, and the continued excellence of the offense, gives fans hope that there will be a lot of home games in the postseason over the next half-decade.
The Saints’ defense yesterday turned in a championship effort with an assist from the rain, showing a toughness up front that they’ve never had under Sean Payton. If they can build on a young star like Cameron Jordan through the draft and give Ryan the tools he needs, there’s a lot of good news on that side of the ball going forward.
8. The Seahawks have a doppelganger: the 2004 Patriots.
Just happened across this during research Saturday – these two are definitely two halves of the same coin.
Both teams had maturing young cores with smart, unflappable quarterbacks. Both extremely well coached. Both with the best record in the league, straight up and against the spread. Patriots: 437 points, 260 allowed. Seahawks: 417 points, 231 allowed.
Neither with particular strength at the offensive skill positions, but with unstoppable big tailbacks (Corey Dillon, Marshawn Lynch) and great offensive line play. Defenses that did it at all three levels. Extremely cohesive coaching.
In the first case, a Super Bowl championship. In the Seahawks’ case? They’re still the favorites.
9. Regardless of the result Sunday, the NFC title game is going to be a tribute to old-school/new-school football.
Whether it’s Cam Newton vs. Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick vs. Wilson, we’ve got the first in what’s likely to be one of many playoff showdowns between the greatest young QBs in the game.
All three are able to make huge plays with their feet and throw with varying degrees of greatness (Kaepernick mid range, Wilson short, Newton deep) while not throwing a lot of interceptions.
And all three teams ride the same old formula to success: tough defense, a great running game and a positive turnover margin. It’s just that the quarterback, on all three teams, is effectively the No. 2 running back as well (and sometimes the No. 1).
Should make for a memorable game between mirror images.
10. Oh, and Marshawn Lynch was awesome.
It’s amazing that Lynch is only 27 – feels like he’s been around forever, that his Buffalo years came a decade ago. But he started it with back to back 1,000-yard seasons at 21 and 22, and has added three more at 25, 26 and 27.
Lynch has now turned in huge games in three of his four full playoff games (he went out hurt in the 2010 NFC title game), topping 130 yards in 2010, 2012 and again in 2013.
His 30-yard touchdown run that more or less clinched the game was a thing of beauty: speed to the outside, moves in open space, power to get to the promised land.
If I’m the Seahawks front office, I’m spending the offseason looking for a great No. 2 back to complement Lynch – Robert Turbin seems to be pretty average, and Lynch/Wilson would surely love a Darren Sproles type to add in the mix.