Well, nobody said it’d be easy.
For three quarters, it kind of was.
But that fourth quarter…. dragged from the depths of hell…. brought to earth to torture Seahawks fans.
A great big poke in the eye, lasting about 40 minutes.
Would the top seed in the NFC choke?
They just about held their nerve.
When you break it down, Seattle was comfortable for a lot of the game and it was unrealistic to expect the Saints to go quietly into the off-season.
The Seahawks needed to rally and got the job done. Any criticism here is intended to be constructive with absolute appreciation for what this team achieved today.
Let’s start at the top.
One of the big reasons the Saints put themselves in a hole is the way they tried too hard to be something they’re not.
Jimmy Graham jawed at the defense in pre-game, before a lousy one-catch, wet fart of a performance.
They tried to act tough. Prove to Seattle they weren’t going to be a push over. That they could play this brand of football.
And yet it’s when they finally put the ball in Drew Brees’ hands and asked him to make plays, that they came surprisingly close to snatching victory from a losing position.
This is one advantage Seattle has. They know what they are, and they never try to be anything else. They don’t waste time with gimmicks during the week. They get on with the job.
The Saints tried to be something they’re not. That’s a big no-no for teams like San Francisco and the Seahawks.
New Orleans are a finesse passing team who make big plays with an elite quarterback. That formula has won them a Super Bowl.
Today they should’ve just been the Saints.
I know the weather was shocking and not conducive to passing football early on. But even so — it took them an age to get Brees into a rhythm.
Their best chance to win today was a fantastic performance by the quarterback. They fought that too much.
Having said all that, you could argue New Orleans only had a shot because Seattle’s offense was frustratingly ineffective.
Marshawn Lynch ran well. But he can’t do it alone. The passing game is struggling and it’s a concern.
Russell Wilson — for whatever reason — has become an edgy, inaccurate quarterback who gets flustered too easily.
Against San Francisco, New York, Arizona and St. Louis — it was understandable. All four teams — including the Giants — were playing good defense. Three of those teams sport elite units.
Wilson struggling a little wasn’t a shock.
Yet when he played the Saints in week 13, he was sublime. He gashed them. Today it was a totally different story.
On basic inside slants he was all over the place. Throwing behind, throwing wide. For what is such a high percentage play, Wilson made it look difficult.
At 16-8 and with the Seahawks trying to respond after New Orleans’ first score — he missed a wide open Doug Baldwin downfield and tried to run instead, coming up a yard short on third down.
He has to make that play. Has to.
Nobody should overreact and Wilson is a terrific quarterback, but he’s picking a bad time to have a cold streak.
At least when he needed a big play to Doug Baldwin, he made it on the late third down.
Good throw, better catch.
I also took something else out of today. And you know I’m serious, because I’m putting it in caps.
SEATTLE NEEDS A BIG, TALL RECEIVER WHO MAKES PLAYS ON THIRD DOWN AND IN THE RED ZONE
This is the teams #1 need by a country mile. It was never more evident today.
In the red zone series where Harvin suffered his game-ending injury, Wilson tried to throw twice. This is classic fade territory. Drop back, throw it into the corner and get your big target to try and make a play.
The only thing is, there’s no receiver on the field bigger than 6-1 and 209lbs.
So instead, Wilson is scrambling around hoping someone gets open.
It wasn’t just the red zone. The Seahawks had an absolute shocker on third down again, going 5/14.
How good would it be to have a guy with some size in there? Throw it up. Let him go after it. Watching Marques Colston make a couple of conversions late on was tough. The Seahawks need a body like that on offense.
The passing game is becoming very precise, when it’s set up to be explosive.
Wilson ended with 9/18 passing and 103 yards. It didn’t cost the team and Lynch ran the ball well enough to put some points on the board. Next week, however, I suspect he’ll have to do more with the weapons he has.
I still believe he’s a better quarterback than Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton. But those two, especially Kaepernick, are making plays at the moment.
Wilson doesn’t take chances like Kaepernick did last week. He gave Green Bay a couple of big opportunities, including a dropped pick-six late on. He responded well, stepping up when it mattered and winning the game on the road.
It helps having Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis to throw to. It’s the one area San Francisco is far superior to the Seahawks.
Wilson needs a receiver like any of that trio.
It’s perhaps reassuring that no quarterback like Brees is still around in the NFC. Even on what was mainly an off-night, he can put up 300 yards in a flash. I doubt we see that next week.
He also had a bit of fortune and that has to be remembered.
Kam Chancellor dropped one easy pick. Earl Thomas collided with Byron Maxwell on another should-be interception that ended up in a 52-yard fluke catch-and-run for Robert Meachem.
He had a chance to tie with seconds remaining only after Golden Tate muffed an onside kick (how are the Saints 3/3 on those by the way??).
It should’ve never got as far as it did. So Seattle must’ve done something right (and they did).
All that really matters is they’re one game away from the Super Bowl.
And despite some of the issues today — Marshawn Lynch is back to playing like an elite runner and the defense continues to be legit.
Some other notes:
- The offensive line played very well and made some huge blocks in the run game. Michael Bowie looked sharp at left guard. Is he the future at left guard? Breno Giacomini had a big day.
- James Carpenter being a healthy scratch was interesting. If he’s cut in the off-season, Seattle could make enough of a saving to keep Giacomini. That could be more important if Bowie’s future is at guard.
- Did I mention Seattle should draft a big receiver? Oh I did?
- Percy Harvin is a legendary flirt. Today was so tantalising. He took a sweep for nine yards and exploded. He made a great leaping catch to convert a third down. But he’s an elite playmaker in a body made of bone china. Seattle lacked any kind of spark when he left the game.
- Sacks can be a phony statistic. According to the box score, New Orleans sacked Russell Wilson three times. From memory, all three were scrambling runs that came up barely short of the line of scrimmage. It’s one of the main reasons why we can’t pay too much attention to stat-based ranking systems.
- What was up with the read option today? Wilson can’t keep handing it off to Lynch or teams won’t buy it. The threat of the quarterback keeping it has to exist for it to work. Maybe New Orleans played it brilliantly this time, I’ll have to watch it again.
- I didn’t see a hold on the big Robert Turbin run by any of the offensive linemen. Some people say Luke Willson held, but the ref’s put in on Giacomini who actually had a terrific block to seal the edge.
- The tight ends were quiet today. Zach Miller had one catch for 11-yards. Neither he or Willson were a big part of the passing game it seemed.
- The pass rush came close to getting five sacks today. Instead they recorded one. On one play Brees eluded a sack by virtually standing still. On other occasions it seemed like he was a finger nail away from being tackled. Just one of those days, I guess.
- The run defense appeared to have some issues against basic formations like 22 personnel. The Saints did a great job blocking the edge and regularly got chunks of yardage. That’s an area for work this week. Seattle’s run defense had been good for the last few weeks.
- Bobby Wagner, apart from a needless 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, had an insane game.
- There were two moments where you kind of thought ‘typical Seattle sports’. The fluke Meachem grab and the onside kick. It’d be nice not to have any of those moments next week.
Whether it’s Carolina or San Francisco in the NFC Championship game, it’ll be a war. Two teams who will play tough defense and run the ball.
Seattle is a home game away from the Super Bowl, a position they’ve only been in once before.
And it doesn’t matter how they got to that position.
The only thing that matters is they’re there.