2011 NFL Wild Card Review: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
Of all the story lines that Wild Card weekend had to offer: A Michael Vick-led Philadelphia Eagles versus an Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers; the Baltimore Ravens defense against the Kansas City Chiefs offense; the Indianapolis Colts led by Peyton Manning opposite a Rex Ryan-coached New York Jets; it was the first game which turned out to be the most surprising and certainly the most compelling.
In a contest considered to be a technicality of divisional breakdown, the Seattle Seahawks hosted the New Orleans Saints at Qwest Field even though the Seahawks had won four less games in the regular season than the Saints. Speculation was so intense that Seattle, division winner of the NFC West, was dubbed "The Worst Playoff Team, Ever" in the week building to kickoff.
The first quarter was exactly what most expected from a team undeserving of a playoff spot. The Seahawks opening kick sailed out of bounds to give New Orleans great field position, followed up only by a Matt Hasselbeck interception in the first Seattle possession. The Saints converted these mistakes into 10 early points in less than nine minutes.
At that point, it seemed as though Sean Payton was easily on his way to the next round of the playoffs. However, nobody was ready for what was to happen next. Matt Hasselbeck led the Seahawks on a 34 to 10 swing leading into the fourth quarter in which the lead was a comfortable two touchdown cushion. The Saints were stunned by the overwhelming pass efficiency that was displayed by Seattle.
New Orleans answered by scoring ten points in the first five minutes of the quarter to get back to within striking distance with a 34-30 deficit. The teams exchanged scoreless possessions before the play of the game was aligned. Trying to burn up the clock and maintain a lead, Seattle turned to the running game to carry the load.
In a play that eight New Orleans players had opportunity to make, Marshawn Lynch showed his strength and stamina in a 67-yard rush in which he broke six tackles and gave a ferocious stiff arm to lift the Seahawks to a 41-30 lead with 3:22 left on the game clock. This play was so uplifting that the Qwest Field crowd erupted to a seismic reading.
New Orleans responded with a touchdown and a failed two-point conversion that left more than enough time for one last hope, pending the recovery of the ensuing kickoff. The situation was simple: with a score of 41-36 with 1:30 remaining, the Saints were in need of the luck that crowned them champions the year before with an onside kick. It was not to be as such against the unmatched Seahawks.
John Carlson, who also caught two touchdown passes in the game, was fitting to recover the onside attempt that thwarted New Orleans' last chance of winning. With not enough time for the Saints to reclaim the ball, all the Seahawks needed was to run out the clock to which they did with no problem. The Seahawks had done it. They held off New Orleans and advanced to the next round of the win-or-go-home bracket.
In the end, New Orleans accumulated more yards, more first downs, ran more plays, and held possession of time for longer than Seattle, but were held to only 77 yards rushing compared to 149 from the Seahawks. The most telling statistic however, was that the scoring drives from Seattle were 10 yards less, on average, than New Orleans; proving that the battle of field position was won by the Seahawks.
Once again, the parity of the National Football League proved true as the media-proclaimed 'worst football team in playoff history' defeated the defending Super Bowl Champions. In doing so, the Seattle Seahawks, who were the first division winning team with a losing record in NFL history, became the first playoff team to win a game with a losing record. Proving again, that there is never a sure thing in the NFL.
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