The Seattle Seahawks are set to host the NFC Championship Game after defeating the New Orleans Saints 23-15 at CenturyLink Field on Saturday in the divisional round.
The Seahawks supplied Pete Carroll's thoughts on the win via Twitter:
Although this matchup was not as lopsided as the Seahawks' 34-7 victory in Week 13, Seattle's defense still dominated the Saints for much of the game.
On offense, it was all about Marshawn Lynch, who led the way for Seattle with 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Drew Brees came on late with 309 passing yards, but he struggled to find any consistency against the strong Seahawks defense.
Neither team was able to get into the end zone early as the Seahawks could only manage two field goals and a 6-0 lead after the first quarter. The Saints had a chance to get on the board early, but a Shayne Graham missed field goal with a little more than 10 minutes left in the first quarter killed their best hope at scoring in the first half.
At the start of the second quarter, Lynch was able to score the first touchdown of the game with an impressive 15-yard run that showed off his strength:
Seattle eventually added another field goal before halftime to make it 16-0 while the Saints could barely move the football. This ESPN the Magazine graphic showed their ineffectiveness early:
Mark Schlereth of ESPN was one of many impressed by the Seahawks effort early on:
Things did not get any easier for the Saints in the third quarter. Marc Sessler of NFL.com discussed the uphill battle for New Orleans:
However, the Saints would not go away. The defense continued to make stops and the offense was able to make a dent against the Seahawks D with a 74-yard drive that resulted in a Khiry Robinson touchdown. A successful two-point conversion made it a one-score game with 13 minutes remaining:
After the Seahawks offense was once again shut down, Fox Sports' Michael Strahan made sure Seattle fans were aware of the situation at hand:
Fortunately for them, a second missed field goal by Graham kept it an eight-point game with four minutes left. Seattle then was able to seemingly put the game away thanks to a 24-yard pass from Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin on third and short.
One play later, Lynch put the Seahawks up 15 points with a 31-yard touchdown run:
Once again, the Saints refused to quit. A last-minute drive against a soft defense led to a Marques Colston touchdown with 26 seconds left. New Orleans then recovered the ensuing onside kick to give it a chance to tie.
The game came to an abrupt end, though, after Colston attempted an illegal forward pass at the Seahawks' 38-yard line instead of going out of bounds with six seconds left on the clock.
Seattle is now 8-1 at home on the year and will have the 12th Man on their side for one more game in next week's NFC Championship.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks: B-
Although the stats were not there, Russell Wilson made plays when it was needed to help the Seahawks get the win.
He completed only half of his passes (9-for-18) and finished with 103 passing yards, which is a new career low for the second-year player. However, he also extended plays with his legs and moved the ball when the Saints defense was stacking the line of scrimmage.
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks: A+
Marshawn Lynch was a workhorse for the Seahawks, rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
Even when he did not break long plays, he was able to fight for every yard and make the defense work.
By the end of the game, it seemed like the Saints could not take any more and he was able to run for a long touchdown that proved to be the deciding score.
Lynch was virtually the entire offense for the Seahawks and was easily the most valuable player in the game.
Drew Brees, Saints: B
After an awful start to the game, Drew Brees finally started to get into a rhythm with his receivers and found a way to move the ball down the field in the fourth quarter.
The Pro Bowler threw for only 34 yards in the first half but ended the game with 309 yards and a touchdown.
Although he came up short, he did as much as anyone could have asked on a windy day against an elite defense.
Jimmy Graham, Saints: F
Arguably the best tight end in football was nowhere to be found for the Saints on Saturday. He caught his first pass of the game with just 20 seconds left, but he was otherwise ineffective on six targets.
Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman supplies Michael Bennett's thoughts on Graham:
Seahawks' Michael Bennett called Jimmy Graham soft and the most overrated player in the NFL.— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) January 12, 2014
Seattle game-planned perfectly to stop Jimmy Graham, and the Seahawks defensive backs always seemed to be in the area to make a play on the ball when it was thrown in his direction.
On a day where the Saints offense could not get much going, Graham was easily the most disappointing player on the field.
While the Saints can start making offseason plans, Seattle will advance to the NFC Championship Game against the winner of Sunday's battle between the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers. The Seahawks beat the Panthers and split two games against the 49ers during the regular season.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.