In the playoffs, but far from satisfied

Posted Dec 2, 2013

In a highly anticipated matchup of the teams with the best records in the NFC, the Seahawks played like the best team in the NFL during an impressive 34-7 romp over the Saints at CenturyLink Field.

It’s difficult to determine which was more impressive Monday night: The way the Seahawks dispatched the New Orleans Saints, or the way they reacted to the dominating performance.

The Seahawks became the first NFL team to clinch a playoff spot and pushed their best-in-the-league record to 11-1, but there were no popping corks or even look-what-we’ve-done smiles of satisfaction in the locker room after their 34-7 victory on “Monday Night Football” before a CenturyLink Stadium-record gathering of 68,387 fans that re-established the Guinness Book of World Records mark to 137.6 decibels for loudest stadium crowd roar at a sporting event.

Instead, the momentary congratulations for a job done much better than well, gave way almost immediately to a fine focus on the next task at hand – Sunday’s game against the 49ers in San Francisco. The Seahawks have a three-game lead over the 49ers (8-4) in the NFC West with four games to play.

“I don’t think we made any statement,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. “We just did what we’ve been doing. We won a game we were supposed to win. And that’s how we play. That’s how we treat it.

“Now, we’re on to the next game. We’ve got to deal with San Francisco.”

No statements, perhaps, but on this Monday night, against a Saints team that entered the game 9-2, in front of this crowd in this venue, the Seahawks sent a definite message. Any team that comes into a stadium where the Seahawks have won 14-consecutive games had better be ready for anything – and everything.

“Everybody knows it’s hard to come in here and beat us,” All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas said. “We’ve been having the same success on the road, but when we play at home magic happens.”

It did Monday night, when the Seahawks’ defense made the NFL’s No. 3-ranked offense all but disappear. The Seahawks set the tone early, and it was deafening.

“We had trouble protecting the passer, getting guys open,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We didn’t do enough things in any one area. … We got beat. We got beat good tonight. So it’s tough.”

The Seahawks held the Saints to only seven points - tied for a low in the Payton-era - and 188 total yards - their fewest since the final game of the 2001 season, a span of 188 games. Drew Brees completed 23 of 38 passes, but for just 147 yards – his lowest total since Week 16 of the 2006 season, when he passed for 132 yards against the New York Giants. The Seahawks forced three-and-outs on five of the Saints’ 11 possessions, stopped them on fourth down twice and even scored as defensive tackle Michael Bennett plucked a Cliff Avril-forced fumble on a sack of Brees out of the air and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.

Better yet, the Seahawks saw this coming because of the way they practiced during the week.

“I’m not just saying this because it happened, but this is what we envisioned happening,” Thomas said. “If we always practice like this, we’re always going to have confidence.”

The flipside to Brees’ pressured performance was the continued calmness of Russell Wilson, the Seahawks’ second-year QB. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns - to tight end Zach Miller (2 yards), wide receiver Doug Baldwin (4 yards) and fullback Derrick Coleman (8 yards), on a pass that caromed off tight end Kellen Davis.

It was the second 300-yard passing performance in a regular-season game for Wilson, and the sixth time he has thrown at least three TD passes earning him the second highest passer rating of his career (139.6). Oh, and he’s now 14-0 at CenturyLink Field.

“I get asked all the time and I really feel inadequate in trying to describe to you who he is and what he’s all about,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s an extraordinary individual. It goes way beyond his football ability, he’s an amazing person.”

And in this game, with the Saints’ defense determined to stop running back Marshawn Lynch (16 carries for 45 yards) and pressure Wilson at every opportunity, it was Wilson who was the best quarterback on the field.

“We wanted to be great against the blitz,” Wilson said. “We knew that their defensive coordinator (Rob Ryan) was going to bring some pressure. We like pressure, because there’s a lot of green grass behind it. So if we can capitalize on those plays.”

And the Seahawks did just that, on Wilson’s 60-yard pass to Miller; and his 52-yarder to Baldwin; and his 33-yarder to wide receiver Ricardo Lockette. Those three long pass plays came on the 73-, 88- and 79-yard drives capped by Wilson’s trio of TD passes.

The Seahawks had almost as many yards on those three long passes (145) as the Saints had for the game (188).

And that brings us back to the Seahawks’ suffocating defense – which was playing with its third option at right cornerback in Byron Maxwell because Brandon Browner is out with a groin injury and backup Walter Thurmond started a league-imposed four-game suspension this week.

“Unbelievable,” Baldwin said. “To be able to hold Drew Brees to 144 yards passing is unreal. I was anxious to see Drew Brees go up against our defense because I thought it was going to be a terrific matchup.”

Instead, it was a mismatch – one that let every other team in the conference know what awaits them if they have to play the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in the playoffs.

“I’ve been telling them that we haven’t done nothing yet, because we really haven’t accomplished anything – except having a nice record,” Carroll said. “Tonight we did. We accomplished something. We’re a playoff team.

“But that’s not our goal. We want to win this division, and that division (title) gets us a chance to play at home. And that’s what we’re after.”