There was a moment in yesterday's NFC Divisional Playoff that surely delighted the national media bobbleheads and seemed to confirm the doubts of that 5th column of naysayers within the Twelve Army. With the Seahawks hanging onto a 16-8 lead with five minutes remaining, Drew Brees tossed a deep ball that fluttered and died in the howling wind. Two Seattle defenders went up for the easy interception, but neither snared it, and the ball fell into the waiting arms of Robert Meachem. The Seahawks were clearly cursed! Super Bowl MVP and future Hall-Of-Famer Drew Brees would surely tie the game, and the Saints would complete the dramatic comeback and win in overtime. Yet another painful chapter would be added to the sordid annals of Seattle professional sports, right up there with the playoff failures of the 1994 Sonics and the 2001 Mariners- Top seeds who all fell far short of the lofty expectations heaped upon them.
Of course it's still possible the Seahawks could fall next week, or at MetLife Stadium in three weeks, but yesterday they confounded the assorted doubters and fatalistic pessimists. After that fluky completion, Seattle's top-rated defense forced three straight incompletions, and Shayne Graham's 2nd shanked field goal attempt kept the Hawks' lead at 8.
Russell Wilson's numbers were fairly pathetic yesterday, and he missed a number of open receivers- but when Seattle absolutely needed a first down to keep the ball away from Brees, he dropped a perfect throw into the arms of Doug Baldwin. Angry Doug did his part with a scintillating sideline catch against excellent coverage. It was hard to not think about the season-saving catches Steve Largent made in a divisional playoff 30 years ago down in Miami's Orange Bowl (that launched Seattle into its first Conference Championship Game).
On the next play, Marshawn Lynch played the part of Curt Warner. In that divisional playoff win at Miami a generation ago, Warner racked up 151 total yards and found the end zone twice, with one of the scores clinching the franchise's first divisional playoff win. Lynch's final carry gave Seattle a 23-8 lead and notched his 2nd touchdown of the day. Beast Mode added another moniker to his stable of nicknames: SK (Saint Killer). His 143 yards and brace of touchdowns cemented his reputation as one of the best running back in the game today, and with two more stellar performances he'll cleanly pass Shaun Alexander as the greatest back in franchise history (a history also includes Warner, John L. Williams, Chris Warren, Ricky Watters and Mack Strong- reaching the head of that class is an impressive feat).
If Lynch was playing Warner, Earl Thomas III was Kenny Easley. The rightful Defensive Player of the Year (Yeah, but I wouldn't complain if they gave it to Sherm either). Once again Thomas stood out as the elite player on a defense standing on the brink of immortality, making 11 tackles and killing two New Orleans drives with perfectly-timed pass deflections. Bobby Wagner had perhaps the best game of his brief career, Kam Chancellor racked up 14 tackles, and the combo of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril bullied Brees into one of the shakier 300-yard performances you'll ever see. Was the 4th quarter a bit shaky? Of course, but their three quarters of dominance over one of the NFL's most explosive offenses was enough to push Seattle within sight of the Super Bowl.
The Hawks also displayed their mental and physical toughness against a team desperate to prove they were anything other than a soft, big-offense dome team. Jimmy Graham tried to rattle the Seahawks during pregame warm-ups, and proceeded to make all of one meaningless catch for eight measly yards. The Saints defense hearkened back to their head-hunting glory days in their obvious ham-fisted attempts to intimidate Seattle's receivers. They succeeded in knocking Percy Harvin out of the game (Get well soon, Percy!), but they failed to cow the toughest team in football. To paraphrase a line from Casino, what were the Saints going to do, muscle the Seahawks? The Seahawks ARE the muscle.
It's worth noting that the difference between victory and defeat yesterday could be found in two relatively mundane areas (turnover differential and special teams). Even though Wilson's numbers were damn-near Whitehurstian, he didn't commit a turnover (compare that to the SEVEN interceptions Andrew Luck threw in this year's postseason tournament), while Seattle's first touchdown was set up by the defense's lone takeaway of the afternoon (but it's worth noting the Hawks dropped two easy interceptions that would have settled matters FAR earlier than the final play of the game). The Hawks were also decisively better than New Orleans on special teams, with a 16-yard Saints punt setting up Seattle's first score and Steven Hauschka drilling all three of his field goal attempts while Graham's two misses buried the black and gold.
While there are legitimate concerns about Percy Harvin's health and the overall performance of Seattle's offense, this should be a moment for rejoicing. The Seahawks are headed for only the third Conference Championship Game in team history, and that opportunity to reach the Super Bowl will come at home in front of the loudest, most hostile fans in the NFL. I'll be among that horde next Sunday, and I promise that I'll do my part. Whenever the enemy has the ball, I'll be blasting them with every single decibel I can muster. I won't let you guys down, and neither will our boys.
What Do You Think, Sirs?