Defense lifts Seahawks into NFC title game

Posted Jan 11, 2014

The Seahawks jumped to a 16-0 lead and then hung on for a 23-15 victory over the Saints before a CenturyLink Field-record crowd of 68,388 on Saturday.

The Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked defense played like it on Saturday, as it stymied the New Orleans Saints in a 23-15 victory at CenturyLink Field that propelled Seattle into the NFC Championship game next Sunday.

The Seahawks will now face the winner of Sunday’s divisional game between the San Francisco 49ers and Panthers in Carolina. They already have beaten each team – the Panthers 12-7 in their season opener in Carolina and the 49ers 29-3 in their Week 2 home opener. The Seahawks also lost the 49ers 19-17 in San Francisco in Week 14.

Saturday’s victory also pushed the Seahawks’ home winning streak in the postseason to six in a row and lifted its home playoff record to 8-2.

The Seahawks prevailed in their rematch with the Saints because the defense stopped New Orleans on downs twice and also forced a fumble to setup the first of two touchdown runs by Marshawn Lynch. Steven Hauschka kicked three field goals, while the Saints’ Shayne Graham missed two.

The Seahawks’ 16-0 lead at halftime was their largest in a postseason game.

They scored first, on a 38-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka with 10:19 left in the first quarter. The Seahawks’ six-play, 20-yard drive started at the Saints’ 40 after the defense forced a three-and-out on the game’s opening series and Thomas Morstead’s punt into a strong wind went only 16 yards.

The Saints then drove to the Seahawks’ 27, but Shayne Graham’s 45-yard field goal was wide left. The Seahawks then drove 34 yards in nine plays to a 49-yard field goal by Hauschka. The big play was Russell Wilson’s 13-yard pass to Golden Tate on third-and-4 and Marshawn Lynch carried twice for 13 yards.

On the Saints’ nine-play drive to the missed field goal, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner played off a block from 310-pound guard Ben Grubbs to drop Darren Sproles for a 3-yard loss on a second-and-9 play. The 3 yards proved pivotal as Graham’s kicked sailed just wide.

The Seahawks pushed their lead to 13-0 on the third play of the second quarter as Marshawn Lynch scored on a 15-yard run with 14:17 left in the half. On the first play of the quarter, Michael Bennett forced and recovered a fumble, giving the Seahawks the ball at the Saints’ 24. Percy Harvin had an 11-yard run before Lynch scored.

The Saints got the ball at their 48-yard line after a 24-yard punt by Jon Ryan into the wind and drove to the Seahawks’ 29. But Wagner rejected Drew Brees’ fourth-and-4 pass that was intended for Marques Colston and the Seahawks took over on downs. On the play before he rejected Brees’ fourth-down pass, Wagner teamed with Kam Chancellor to stop Khiry Robinson for no gain.

The Seahawks then drove 63 yards in 12 plays to a 26-yard field goal by Hauschka to make it 16-0 with 1:18 left in the half. Wilson hit passes of 16 yards to Harvin and third-and-8 and 25 yards to Jermaine Kearse during the drive.

There was no scoring in the third quarter, but a lot of action as the Seahawks stopped the Saints on downs for the second time in the game and also had a fumble-forcing play for the second time in the game.

Bennett teamed with Cliff Avril for a sack and forced another fumble. He also blew up a play that resulted in a 5-yard loss on the Saints’ series that ended on downs. The Saints had driven to the Seahawks’ 34 on their first series of the half and had a third-and-9. But Bennett and Avril got to Brees for a sack and Bennett forced a fumble. The Saints recovered, but the play forced them to punt.

The Saints scored on the fourth play of the quarter on a 1-yard TD run by Khiry Robinson and then added a two-point conversion run by Mark Ingram. The score capped a nine-play, 74-yard drive than began in the third quarter. Brees was 4 of 4 on the drive for 63 yards.

The Seahawks were forced to punt on their possession after the Saints’ score – the Seahawks’ fourth punt in as many possessions in the second half – but Jon Ryan put the ball out of bounds at the Saints’ 6. The Saints drove to the Seahawks’ 30, but Shayne Graham missed a 48-yard field goal. The Seahawks then scored on Lynch’s 31-yard TD run with 2:40 left.

The Saints scored again with 26 seconds left when Brees passed 9 yards to Colston.