Seahawks pull off playoff stunner
SEATTLE — Jokes, lightweights, laughingstocks.
Not these Seattle Seahawks. They just sent the defending Super Bowl champions packing.
Matt Hasselbeck threw four touchdown passes, Marshawn Lynch scored on an electrifying 67-yard run with 3:22 left, and the Seahawks pulled one of the biggest upsets in playoff history with a 41-36 win over the New Orleans Saints.
The Seahawks (8-9) held a 34-20 lead early in the fourth quarter before Drew Brees looked ready to lead the Saints (11-6) on one of their patented comebacks. But Lynch broke about a half-dozen tackles for his TD and a few anxious minutes later, the party was on at the NFL's loudest stadium.
Seattle, the first division winner with a losing record, will play next weekend, either at top-seeded Atlanta or No. 2 Chicago.
"We kind of expected to win," first-year Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I know that sounds crazy, but we did expect to win. The fact that it happened, it's just kind of like, we want to take it in stride and go to the next one. I know it sounds crazy, but that's the way the mindset of this team was."
Hasselbeck, cleared to play just two days ago because of a hip injury, threw for 272 yards and his four TD passes set a playoff career high. The veteran quarterback threw two TD passes to tight end John Carlson in the first half and started the second half with a 38-yard strike to Mike Williams to give Seattle a 31-20 lead.
The game wasn't clinched, though, until Lynch provided a run that'll be replayed in the Pacific Northwest for years. He took a second-down carry with less than four minutes to go and then the highlights began. He broke six tackles on his 67-yard run, tossing in a massive stiff arm that sent cornerback Tracy Porter to the turf and completed the longest scoring run of his career.
The win was the first in the playoffs for a team with a losing record.
"We respect the heck out of the Saints, but I think we felt something special all week and today, and we'll see," Hasselbeck said. "It's a good start for us."
Lynch finished with 131 yards on 19 carries, the first Seattle back to top 100 yards all season.
Hasselbeck, Lynch and a strong performance by Seattle's offense extended the Saints franchise misery to 0-4 in road playoff games.
The Saints were considered the second-best team in the division behind the NFC South-winning Falcons. Even though they lost to Tampa Bay in the season finale a week ago and were without running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, safety Malcolm Jenkins and linebacker Danny Clark, the Saints were favored by 10 points to advance.
Now they go home.
Brees, who completed a playoff-record 39 passes in 60 attempts for 404 yards and two TDs, still couldn't match Hasselbeck and the Seahawks' offense. Brees led one final drive, hitting Devery Henderson on a 6-yard touchdown with 1:30 left to get within 41-36.
But DeShawn Wynn was stopped on the 2-point conversion, Garrett Hartley's onside kick was recovered by Carlson, and the Seahawks were home free.
Reggie Bush finished with five carries for 12 yards, caught five passes and did not play in the fourth quarter, jogging back to the locker room early in the quarter and never returning.
Julius Jones, cut by Seattle earlier in the season, ran for two short touchdowns and finished with 120 all-purpose yards.
In the second half, Brees all but abandoned the run, throwing on 33 of the Saints' 41 plays, as he tried to rally the Saints from a two-touchdown deficit.
Brees pulled the Saints within 34-27 on Jones' 4-yard touchdown run with 13:11 left, a drive helped along by a personal foul penalty by Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons.
Seattle then threw on three straight plays, all incomplete and used just 16 seconds. Brees and the Saints took over at their 44 and drove to the Seattle 4 before Henderson was stopped short on a third-and-3 pass. The Saints settled for Hartley's 21-yard field goal with 9:13 left and trailed, 34-30.
Seattle got a first down on its next drive when Hasselbeck hit Brandon Stokley for 12 yards, but Hasselbeck was sacked by Scott Shanle on second down and Seattle was forced to punt with under six minutes remaining. The 52-yard punt by Jon Ryan, plus a penalty on the return, backed the Saints to their own 6 with 5:36 left.
Brees couldn't convert on third-and-8 at his 19 and the Saints punted with 4:29 left and just one timeout. Lynch's run then gave Seattle an 11-point lead.
At the end of the game, Carroll gathered his team at midfield after Hasselbeck took one final knee, jumping up and down on the Seahawks logo with most of his team jumping in unison.
Hasselbeck left the field to a rousing ovation and his youngest son propped up on his shoulders.