It was not pretty by any means necessary, but the grit of the Seahawks defense and the timely play by the Seahawks offense late in the game, along with a fired up 12th Man helped secure a 23-15 victory over the New Orleans Saints in an NFC Divisional Playoff on Saturday afternoon. With the victory the Seahawks will play either the San Francisco 49ers or the Carolina Panthers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game next Sunday. This game had its ups and its downs and although Saturday’s game lacked one major play that shaped how the rest of the game played out, much like the last time these two teams met, there was a feeling of pure confidence that was not challenged until late in the game (more on this a little later). Here is what I took out of Saturday’s playoff win.
Halftime Over-Confidence: The Seahawks entered halftime with a 16-0 lead and the general feeling in the stands seemed to be that we would run away with the game in the second half. This was not the case with me. Two different things popped into my head. First, a 16-0 lead is only a two score lead. If the Saints scored a touchdown and converted the 2-point conversion (which they did in the fourth quarter), the Seahawks would suddenly have just a one score lead. The second thing I thought of was the NFC Divisional Playoff game from last season when the Atlanta Falcons took a 20-0 lead over the Seahawks into halftime. The Seahawks were able to come all the way back to take the lead before losing in the final seconds. At halftime I was probably the only person in my general area that felt legitimately nervous about the possibility of the Saints jumping out to close the gap in the second half. Perhaps I was disappointed and nervous that the Seahawks only came away with 16 first half points, but in my opinion it felt like a lot of people thought the game was all but over at halftime.
Lynch Powers Offense: As I was standing in the Brougham Beer Hall inside CenturyLink Field’s southwest concourse corridor about two hours prior to kickoff, I glanced up to one of the many televisions to see the bold prediction on NFL Gameday Morning that Marshawn Lynch would run for over 150 yards on the Saints defense. He came 10 yards short. When the Seahawks passing game was halted in the second half, Marshawn Lynch rose to the occasion, running for 71 second half yards, including a 31-yard touchdown run with 2:40 left in the game. Lynch’s stat line was practically split right down the middle between the first half and the second half and Lynch’s most valuable contribution late in the game was chewing clock, ultimately leading to his fourth quarter touchdown.
Passing Game Stalls When Harvin Leaves: In his final 4 regular season games, Russell Wilson had an average passer rating of 80.0; his worst stretch of the season. Wilson recorded a passer rating of 67.6 on Saturday while only completing 9 passes for 103 yards. This was only the second time all season that Wilson had single-digit completions. The presence of Percy Harvin seemed to get the offense into a groove in the first half but when Harvin exited the game with 1:21 left in the first half with a concussion, the offense struggled to gain any kind of momentum in the passing game following halftime. In the second half Wilson only went 2/9 for 35 yards passing. Weather may have played a factor in Wilson’s poor performance but it seemed a little odd that an offensive unit that played an entire season without Percy Harvin could look so lost once he left the game. Next week the Seahawks will face one of the toughest defenses in the league. Regardless of whether it is San Francisco or Carolina that comes to town next week, the Seahawks need to figure out how to make Russell Wilson more comfortable in the pocket as once again his hesitancy making throws potentially cost the Seahawks big chunks of yardage on Saturday. Hopefully with a healthy Harvin next week, the Seahawks will open up the playbook even more than they did against New Orleans which could help take some of the pressure off of Wilson in the NFC Championship Game.
Defense Must Improve: The Seahawks allowed only 15 points on Saturday with 7 of them coming in garbage time. Early on in the game it looked like the Seahawks defense might be able to hold Drew Brees and the Saints offense to a lesser yardage total than they did back in December. Instead, the Seahawks allowed 409 yards of offense, the most in a game since they played Houston in week 4. Brees successfully picked apart Seattle’s defense and many intermediate passes were completed in the middle of the field. The Seahawks seemed inept at times putting pressure on Brees. Although New Orleans only converted 25% of their third down opportunities, Brees seemed to have a lot of time to throw on those passing downs. More pressure and better play in the middle of the field need to be improved upon in practice this week or else Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton may have similar passing opportunities next week.
Goat of the Season: What in the world was Saints wide receiver Marques Colston thinking when he stayed inbounds and then threw an illegal forward pass with under 10 seconds left, ending the game? Colston will surely be berated by Saints fans in the coming days for choosing to stay inbounds instead of stepping out of bounds, which would have given the Saints one more play from the Seahawks 40-yard line. After watching the replay of the final play, it is possible to wonder if Colston saw a wide open Travaris Cadet across the field and if he could somehow throw him the ball, Cadet could score. Nevertheless Colston failed to make the smart decision and get out of bounds and it cost the Saints one final chance to try to score and tie the game with a 2-point conversion.
Thoughts on New Orleans: The New Orleans Saints have a very talented offense and a solid defense when healthy. The absence of safety Kenny Vaccaro was certainly noticeable on Saturday. I believe the Saints will bounce back strong in 2014 and will once again be contenders for the NFC South and potentially Super Bowl XLIX next season.
Random Thoughts: The Saints mixed it up on Saturday by wearing gold pants with their white jerseys. That was a surprise to me since they usually wear their black pants for all late season games… In my game preview I mentioned that one of the four divisional playoff referees will earn the opportunity to referee Super Bowl XLVIII. I am starting to wonder that if the Seahawks make it to the Super Bowl Terry McAulay may be ineligible for the Super Bowl. It would make sense for the NFL to call upon a ref that did not officiate any of the Super Bowl team’s playoff games. Just some food for thought… The streamers were a huge success on Saturday and you could probably see them from multiple sections over. I think I found my new touchdown/victory celebratory prop, at least for playoff games… Everybody was in their seats with plenty of time to spare before kickoff. That made me happy. Hopefully the same goes next week… The 12th Man flags looked pretty cool from the upper deck, especially since I can look down the entire side of the stadium to see a wave of blue. I’m still disappointed that rally towels were not the giveaway but I would not be surprised to see them make an appearance next week… I didn’t get to try the beast burger because if I had bought one it would have been waterlogged by the torrential downpour that ensued about an hour before the game. I had to settle for a bigfoot hot dog in the second quarter. It was nothing special… Here’s a funny story. After the Rams game two weeks ago I had gotten an NFC West champions hat and I decided to wear it to Saturday’s game. Due to the strong wind gusts and sideways pouring-down rain, we decided to walk along the inside of the stadium to our seats instead of the upper deck concourse. As we approached our section, a sudden wind gust whooshed my hat right off of my head and I watched helplessly as it blew over the façade of the upper deck into the lower bowl. That was the end of that. I then trekked down to the Seahawks pro shop to buy a new NFC West champions hat. I made sure the second hat stayed on my head. Talk about an embarrassing moment but a laughable one after the fact for sure… We are one win away from Super Bowl XLVIII. I can’t believe it. The anticipation of next Sunday’s game will cause a serious lack of sleep this week.
Check back next Saturday as I preview the 2013 NFC Championship Game between the Seahawks and either the San Francisco 49ers or the Carolina Panthers. GO SEAHAWKS!