The Seattle Seahawks dispatched the New Orleans Saints 23-15 in a game that turned out to be much closer than it needed to be. Seattle dominated the first three quarters defensively, but couldn't put the Saints away when they had the chance.
It wasn't a pretty victory, but few playoff wins are ever easy. The Seahawks did what they had to do to move on to the NFC Championship Game.
#Seahawks Wilson: "We're 60 minutes away. We need to play the best 60 minutes we can play."— Art Thiel (@Art_Thiel) January 12, 2014
Here are eight takeaways from Saturday's win over New Orleans.
All stats are taken from nfl.com.
The Saints finished the game with 301 yards through the air, but most of that came late in the game when the outcome appeared to be decided. Seattle went to soft zones a bit too early, and Saints' quarterback Drew Brees was able to get them back into the game.
However, before that Seattle's defense was completely dominant. The Seahawks held the Saints scoreless for three quarters. They also held Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to just one catch all game.
If the Seahawks are going to continuing winning in the playoffs, it is going to be on the strength of their defense. If they play like they did in the first three quarters on Saturday, the Seahawks can beat anybody.
Wide receiver Percy Harvin left the game with a concussion just before halftime. Even though he played less than one half, he led the team in receptions with three and was third on the team in yards with 21.
Once Harvin was out, Seattle's offense broke down. Quarterback Russell Wilson struggled to complete passes, and the Seahawks repeatedly went three-and-out. It wasn't until late in the fourth quarter that the Seahawks were able to put together another scoring drive.
Getting Harvin back in time for the NFC Championship Game next Sunday will be a huge lift for the Seahawks.
The Seahawks offense left when Percy Harvin did— trey wingo (@wingoz) January 12, 2014
Russell Wilson had one of his worst games as a professional. He completed just nine out of 18 passes for a dismal 103 yards. The only redeeming element of Wilson's game was that he didn't turn the ball over.
The biggest problem here is that this performance wasn't a case of too much defensive pressure or receivers not being open. Wilson misfired on a bunch of throws and often threw into coverage when he had open receivers elsewhere on the field.
The Seahawks need Wilson to rebound and get back to playing like he was earlier in the season. When Wilson is on, Seattle can be unstoppable.
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch lived up to his "Beast Mode" nickname on Saturday. Lynch finished with 28 carries and 140 yards. Lynch accounted for over half of Seattle's offensive output in this game.
Even more impressive was the way in which many of those yards were earned. Lynch ran over defenders, broke tackles and fought hard for many of those yards.
The Seahawks will need Lynch running like that if they are to win next week against a better defensive team than the Seahawks played this week.
Seattle punter Jon Ryan had one of his worst days punting the football since joining the Seahawks. He shanked one punt in the first half and dropped a snap on another punt in the third quarter. That dropped snap also led to a bad punt.
Ryan averaged just 36.7 yards on six punts, which is well below his season and career averages.
On the other hand, Ryan also collected a bad snap and got the ball down and spotted correctly for kicker Steven Hauschka's 49-yard field goal.
The Seahawks made an unexpected move this week. Starting left guard and former first-round pick James Carpenter was inactive on Saturday, and the team started rookie Michael Bowie in his spot. Bowie started seven games earlier this season at right tackle and one at right guard in place of injured teammates.
Carpenter isn't injured, but he has been ineffective. The Seahawks decided it was time to make a change, and Bowie made the most of the opportunity. There were a couple mistakes, but overall Bowie provided a serious upgrade to Seattle's struggling offensive line.
It is no coincidence that Bowie's insertion in the lineup in place of Carpenter and guard Paul McQuistan came on the day when Marshawn Lynch had his best day in months. Bowie's play might just end up changing Seattle's strategy for improving the offensive line this offseason.
The fans in Seattle were as loud as ever. They disrupted the New Orleans offense and its ability to communicate at the line of scrimmage throughout the game.
The height of the disruption came in the fourth quarter when the Saints were called for a delay-of-game penalty, and then had to burn a timeout one play later because Brees couldn't get the play changed at the line of scrimmage.
Ultimately, the two second-half timeouts that the Saints were forced to burn because of the crowd noise likely preserved the win for the Seahawks. Without those timeouts, New Orleans couldn't stop the clock when they needed to at the end of the game.
68,388 here today, a CenutryLink Field record. By 1.— John Boyle (@johnpboyle) January 11, 2014
The win advances the Seahawks to the conference-championship game. Whichever team wins Sunday's game between the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers will be coming to Seattle next week for the right to play in the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks have some things to clean up, especially on offense, but they are now just one win away from heading to New York for the big game. For now, Seattle has to wait and find out who the opposition will be.