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Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (r.) falls into the end zone for one of his two touchdowns as the Seahawks dispose of the Saints in the NFC divisional playoffs.
SEATTLE – The cheers didn’t quite shake the earth. But they did send a message: The Seattle Seahawks are headed back to the NFC title game.
There were no recorded earthquakes on a rainy Saturday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, and the closest thing to a disaster was the collapse of the once-formidable New Orleans Saints offensive machine. But there was a Beast in Seahawks back Marshawn Lynch, and that’s all Seattle needed to beat New Orleans, 23-15, in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
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Russell Wilson leads the Seahawks into the NFC Championship game.
The strange collapse of the Saints offense was epitomized on a bizarre final play that ended their comeback bid. With 32 seconds to play, Drew Brees completed a nine-yard TD to Marques Colston, closing to 23-15, and Colston recovered the onside kick just moments later.
But with just seconds left, on the game’s final play, Brees launched a pass to Colston near the sideline at about the 40, and, with two seconds to play, he didn’t step out of bounds. Instead, Colston tried to throw a lateral across the field to Travaris Cadet, a duck of a pass that actually was thrown forward, forcing a 10-second clock runoff and ending the game.
Just a month ago, the top-seeded Seahawks had thrashed New Orleans, 34-7, and that play sealed another Seahawk win, punching their ticket to a second straight NFC title game. Seattle will host the winner of Sunday’s Panthers-49ers clash in next Sunday’s NFC championship.
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Lynch (c.) once again torments the Saints defense.
It was Lynch who led the way, rumbling for 140 yards and scoring both Seattle TDs on a day when Russell Wilson passed for just 103 yards. Lynch’s last touchdown run, a 31-yard jaunt with 2:40 left in which he stiff-armed a Saints defender to the ground, didn’t shake the earth, but it did give Seattle just enough breathing room to withstand a last-ditch Saints comeback.
It was an out-of-character Saints team that Seattle faced, a pass-happy team by nature that chose to rely on the run game for the second straight week, and the Seahawks were more than happy to take advantage. For a second straight week, tight end Jimmy Graham was a non-factor, and he didn’t catch a single pass. And 5,000-yard passer Brees was reduced to a handoff machine in the first half.
It was the same tactic that New Orleans coach Sean Payton had used just a week earlier, in the upset Wild-Card win in Philadelphia, but here, it backfired. The Saints may have aimed to quiet the loudest crowd in football, but all they did was allow Seattle to build a 16-0 first-half lead.
Saints running back Khiry Robinson scores the team’s only touchdown.
New Orleans was forced to rally in the fourth quarter, and it closed the gap to 16-8 on a gritty one-yard TD run by Robinson, and a two-point conversion run by Mark Ingram.
But that would be the first of just two Saints trips into the red zone, and it was too little, too late. They’d have just one more scoring opportunity before Lynch put the game out of reach: With less than six minutes to play, Brees, on first-and-10 from his own 23, heaved a long bomb into double coverage to Robert Meachem. The pass bounced off the hands of defensive backs Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell, and straight to Meachem, who caught it and ran another 10 yards to the Seahawk 25.
But on this afternoon – any afternoon in Seattle for New Orleans, apparently – even that couldn’t get them going. A delay-of-game penalty would push New Orleans back to the 30, and, three Brees incompletions later, kicker Shayne Graham’s 48-yard field goal was flitting wide left.
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Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka makes three field goals in the game.
It was that kind of day for Seattle, a day in which almost everything went right. The Seahawks controlled the game from the outset, grabbing a 6-0 lead on a pair of Hauschka field goals in the first quarter and happily taking advantage of the Saints’ ultra-conservative game plan. With New Orleans focused on handoffs and screes, Brees didn’t even complete a pass – or threaten Seattle deep – until he found Marques Colston on the final drive of the second quarter.
But the run game made mistakes, too. At the start of the second quarter, tailback Mark Ingram, on second-and-6 from his own 24, was stood up at the line by defensive end Michael Bennett. The ball popped loose, and Bennett recovered, and, two plays later, Lynch was rumbling into the end zone from 15 yards out, giving Seattle a 13-0 lead.
It was the first of his two TDs. And while neither score shook the earth, they were exactly what Seattle needed.