Seahawks 41, Saints 36: Ten things we learned
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 07, 2011
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts 12th Man
Cold, Hard Football Facts 12th Man
Wait, weren't we supposed to be bored to tears by the first of four wildcard playoff games?
Instead, the Seahawks and Saints gave us a heck of a football game and one of the biggest upsets in recent playoff memory – Seattle's 41-36 win was a tribute to home cooking, timely playcalling and the unpredictability of sports.
Ten things we learned ...
1. Marshawn Lynch's last two years can be summed up as 24 months of frustration leading to one amazing moment of glory. Lynch's 67-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to ice the game looked like something you might pull off on Madden 2K11 while playing your drunken Uncle Hal on Christmas night.
A series of jukes, stiff-arms and stomps, Lynch's run was one of the most memorable of the season.
Add in the gravity of the moment and it's one of the most tremendous individual plays in years (the Seahawks had given up 10 straight points and looked ready to blow a once comfy 34-20 fourth-quarter lead).
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Not bad for a guy who fell off the fast track after two 1,000-yard seasons at the start of his career in Buffalo. His 2009 campaign tarted with a substance-abuse suspension and ended with minimal production. He was dumped by Buffalo back in October for some low draft picks. Even with a new team, he did little, averaging 3.5 yards a carry and fumbling three times. Until Saturday.
It has to feel good.
2. The Saints tried to tell us all year that they weren't the same team they were in 2009, but we didn't want to listen. On Saturday, it became official: Whatever unique quality that Super Bowl team had last year wasn't transferred on to this team.
The 2010 Saints lost on the road to Arizona, should have lost at San Francisco and could have lost at Cincinnati and Dallas. Brees threw a ton of interceptions (22), the running game was banged up beyond belief and they were coming off a bad loss in the regular-season finale (23-13 at home vs. Tampa).
They scored more than a touchdown less per game here in 2010 (31.0 PPG last year, 24.0 PPG this year), and while the scoring defense was better, they didn't play particularly well on that side of the ball over the second half. The Big Play defense of last year (26 INT) completely disappeared (league-low 9 INT this year).
Yet no one seemed to bat an eyelash about picking them to go to the Super Bowl again even in a tough NFC field. Even certain members of the Cold, Hard Football Facts foolisly expected that same old 2009 magic here in 2010, despite all the statistical evidence to the contrary.
Sorry, Saints fans. It's not going to happen. But you'll always have Miami.
3. Matt Hasselbeck just earned a starting job somewhere in 2011. Seattle's quarterback is only five years removed from taking his team to the Super Bowl, but they've felt like five long years.
His passer rating has averaged in the mid-70s since the 2005 season, and he's spent a lot of time struggling through injuries. But Saturday reminded everyone of how good he can be, with a franchise postseason record 4 TD passes and a tremendous 113.04 passer rating. With the exception of terrible early pass that was deflected and picked off, had gave a tremendous performance.
Hasselbeck is never going to the Hall of Fame, and probably won't lead another team to a Super Bowl – but he's going to be a starter in this league for another three or four years as long as he can play like he did Saturday every once in a while. He'll be an attractive free-agent signing in Minnesota or Miami if Seattle doesn't get him to come back.
4. This game was a great piece of PR for the concept of momentum as everything. There's really no way to overstate how poorly the Seahawks played in 2010. Not only did they go 7-9, they did it against one of the league's worst schedules – and almost all of their losses were decisive.
And then, in Week 17 vs. the Rams, they looked like a playoff team. They played smothering defense, were too fast for the Rams and won their way into the playoffs.
And lo and behold, that was the same team we saw Saturday ... well, not exactly the same -- they they allowed 474 yards and 36 points. But the offense was very good vs. New Orleans' weak D with a season-high 41 points, and they just looked sharp.
The Saints looked bad losing to Tampa last week and, with the exception of Brees's performance, looked bad again against the Seahawks.
Research shows that resting guys in Week 17 doesn't really have a predictable effect. But "Big Mo" looked pretty real Saturday.
5. Yes, the Saints missed their two best backs – and eventually, their third- and fourth-best backs. We considered titling this section "Reggie Bush sucks." But we're too respectful toward the game for that kind of statement.
Still, he does. The Saints were forced to depend on him Saturday night, and really got nothing out of him: 5 rush attemps for 12 yards and 5 catches for 37 yards.
Bush is a nice piece of the puzzle when he's in a rotation. But if he's asked to do too much he lets you down.
Bush's drop early in the first quarter, on a pass that led him perfectly toward the end zone for what would have been a TD, cost the Saints four points. Julius Jones was better, scoring twice, but also fumbled and got blown up as a blocker more than once.
Making matters worse, Bush and Jones couldn't even last through the game; they both went out, and the Saints were stuck with DeShawn Wynn by game's end.
Wow. Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory might not sell as many jerseys as No. 25, but their twin absences were bitterly felt.
6. The Seahawks' front office did a lot of hard work, and it paid off. It was noted during the broadcast that the Seahawks made more transactions than anyone else this year, and the results were everywhere Sunday.
Leon Washington, Marshawn Lynch, Mike Williams, Raheem Brock and Chris Clemons – they've been some of Seattle's best players all year, and they were again on Saturday. They were all elsewhere in 2009, and none of them were exactly must-haves in other cities.
Add the two successful first-round picks of tackle Russell Okung (who was great in protection Saturday) and Earl Thomas (faster than Usain Bolt?), and it's time to salute unheralded Seahawks GM John Schneider.
No, not the Dukes of Hazzard guy. This John Schneider came from the Packers organization, and has brought the same type of excellence Northwest.
7. Drew Brees proved that one player can't beat 22. It's tough to ask someone to play better than Brees did in a loss. The man threw 60 passes, finished with 404 yards, didn't turn it over, and led his team to 36 points despite bad field position all day.
Brees has played in seven playoff games, has thrown 15 touchdowns and two interceptions and has put up an average of 28.7 points a game. He didn't get any noticeable help Saturday, from his running game (3.5 yards per carry), defense or special teams.
And yet, had the Saints recovered the final onside kick, he almost certainly would have won the game. A legendary effort.
8. Never question Sean Payton's ballsmanship or ability, but question his key calls in the second half. Payton is a great coach, and the Saints probably wouldn't even be in the playoffs without his leadership, but Saturday wasn't his best game.
His decision to go for it in his own end, down 14 in the third quarter, was defensible. But handing the ball off to Julius Jones when you have Drew Brees behind center? Bogey play, and although it didn't cost them points it really could have given the Seahawks what they needed to end the game.
Then, needing a two-point conversion to cut it to three at the end ... a handoff to Wynn, a guy who has been in a Saints uniform for five days?
We're not getting it. A good coach has to play to his personnel, and Payton didn't on those plays.
9. Seeing a game at Qwest Field should be added to any NFL fan's bucket list. Sure, maybe we got a bit burned out on Seattle in the 1990s when the hype machine was cranking all things Pacific Northwest at us.
Nirvana, Starbucks, all that alternative jazz.
You don't hear as much about Seattle these days. But the sight of the architecturally awesome Qwest Field filled with greenish-blue throngs screaming was a hell of a thing to behold.
There might be better franchises and better teams out there, but being a Seahawk fan looks like an awful lot of fun when things go right.
10. It's good to be the Falcons or Bears. Even with New Orleans' flaws, the thought of hosting the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the divisional round didn't sound like a fun time.
Now, either the Falcons or Bears won't have to worry about it. If the Packers beat the Eagles, they go to Atlanta and Seattle goes to Chicago to face the Bears, who would privately dance a jig and publicly express admiration for Pete Carroll and the troops. If the Eagles win, the Falcons get the Seahawks in Atlanta.
Can the Seahawks pull another upset? Considering the 20 percent success rate of road teams and the unlikelihood of a bad team playing another great game ... let's turn to our Magic 8-Ball.
"All signs point to No."
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