The Seattle Seahawks reached the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2005, with a hard-fought 23-15 win over the New Orleans Saints in the gusts and rain of the Pacific Northwest. Here’s the Notebook Nine takeaways from the New Orleans-Seattle game…
- *If you watched this game, was there anything about Seattle that shouted “Super Bowl favorite”? I know the conditions made it tough for anyone to look good, but New Orleans moved the ball more consistently, and if not for a big turnover leading to an easy Seahawk touchdown, and some other missed opportunities, this is a different game.
- *Then again…the Seattle defense made big stops consistently, and Marshawn Lynch ran for 140 yards on 28 carries. Russell Wilson didn’t throw an interception. Seattle never gave New Orleans anything for free, and any good team is going to be hard to beat if they don’t shoot themselves on the foot. Maybe I’ve become so jaded by Fantasy offensive numbers, that I’m losing my appreciation for the football I love the most—ground-and-pound, mixed with tough defense.
- *The general game plan of New Orleans head coach Sean Payton was a good one. He committed to the run, and this newly found Khiry Robinson combined with Mark Ingram to give a flash and muscle combination in the backfield. Had this combo been found earlier, maybe the Saints win the NFC South, get a bye and we’re not doing this post-mortem from Seattle for at least another week.
- *While Payton’s overall strategies were good, his decisions in specific tactical situations were awful. When going into the wind, he attempted two field goals of over 40 yards, the second one a 48-yard try. At that, Bill Simmons, the editor of ESPN’s Grantland tweeted out that we were still looking for the second person on earth who thought the kick had any chance.
- *Seattle’s own clock management at the end left a lot to be desired. With three minutes to go, an eight-point lead and New Orleans down to one timeout, Wilson threw an incomplete pass on first down. The highlight play—a 3rd-and-3 completion to Doug Baldwin down the sideline—was a poor decision that worked. Why risk stopping the clock when you have a great defense, minimal time left, and might still get the first down by running? Finally, when Lynch galloped 31 yards for a TD with 2:40 left, it was better for the Saints. They were out of timeouts and the only hope was a Seattle score that would allow New Orleans to try for a score-onside kick-score miracle.
- *And as it turned out, it almost happened. After a Saints’ touchdown, Seattle’s Golden Tate flubbed the onside kick. When this happened, how many people in the state of Wisconsin thought it was poetic justice? Tate was the receiver on last year’s train wreck play against the Packers on Monday Night Football that brought the replacement ref era to an ignominious end. He stood to be the goat when he gave Drew Brees the ball back, down eight with 24 seconds left.
- *Like the rest of the nation, I’m not sure what New Orleans receiver Marques Colston was thinking, as he caught a pass around the 35-yard line with a few seconds remaining. Rather than easily step out of bounds and let Brees launch one into the end zone, Colston tried an across-the-field lateral that went forward and ended the game. No one was looking for it, so it clearly wasn’t a designed play. Unfortunately, the play will overshadow that Colston caught 11 balls for 144 yards against a secondary that’s as good as any in the game.
- *Speaking of that secondary—safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor were laying hits everywhere, supporting the run defense and constantly disrupting the passing game. We could cite their 25 combined tackles, but perhaps the more consequential stat is this—New Orleans’ tight end Jimmy Graham caught just one pass for eight yards. Really, I could have saved this entire column space, quoted that stat, and we’d know why Seattle won the football game.
- *On the gambling/entertainment side of things, the standard line for this game was Seattle (-8), meaning Brees’ final touchdown drive was a nightmare for Las Vegas. It put the game on a push, which means all bets are off and the sportsbooks don’t collect the 10 percent juice on losing bets. And on television, if play-by-play man Kevin Burkhart and analyst John Lynch are Fox’s #2 broadcast team (Joe Buck and Troy Aikman go today in Carolina), then the network needs to add some depth.