January 6, 2014

Top 5: Seahawks Beat Saints!

Our Seahawks debut in the NFL's annual postseason tournament this Saturday v New Orleans, facing a #6 seed that they whipped 34-7 barely more than a month ago. Before we look forward to that matchup, I'd like to make a few brief remarks about Seattle's sterling regular season. 

-The 2013 Seahawks were in some respects a mirror image of the 2005 team. The '05 Hawks had the NFL's number one offense and the number seven defense, while the '13s had the #1 defense and the #8 offense. The '05s had three All-Pros: Shaun Alexander, Mack Strong and Walter Jones (all offense), while the '13s trio of All-Pros were defenders (Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor). Both teams sent their QBs to the Pro Bowl (Hasselbeck and Wilson- in fact, the quarterbacks put up nearly identical stats). The '13s outpaced the '05s in point differential, +186 to +181. 

-Their legacy will be defined by their post-season performance, but based on the regular season Seattle's defense has a chance to go down as one of the greatest of all time. They lead the league in points allowed, overall yardage allowed, pass defense and turnover ratio. In a league where scoring is at all-time high, it would be a historic accomplishment if the Seahawks were able to win a World Championship behind a dominant defense. 

-Four games stand out when looking back at the regular season. Two were dominant wins on national TV over elite competition (A 29-3 demolition of the 49ers and that 27-point wipeout of the Saints), and two were furious comeback wins over inferior opponents (A 23-20 OT triumph over the Texans after falling behind 20-3, and a 27-24 OT win over Tampa Bay after trailing 21-0). These games highlighted two important qualities of the 2013 Seahawks: Their tendency to deliver their best performances when the pressure on them was the highest, and their refusal to give up when faced with seemingly impossible odds. Both of these attributes will serve them well in the postseason. 

Now the Hawks face the Saints once again, and while anything can happen (obviously), this is still a very favorable matchup for Seattle. Going back to the last meeting with New Orleans on December 2nd, the Seahawks' defense has allowed a minuscule 12.4 points per game. While Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, it's difficult to envision how he'll put up enough points to prevail over Seattle on Saturday. I'll say the Seahawks move on to the NFC Championship Game with a 27-16 win. This weekend's playoff game is the 14th meeting between these teams, and the Hawks have won 7 of the previous meetings. Here's a look back on the 5 best Seattle wins vs New Orleans. 

Two weeks earlier, the Seahawks had suffered a humiliating 24-0 home loss to the eventual NFC Champion L.A. Rams (in which they were held to -7 yards of total offense). After an upset win at Cleveland, the Hawks came back home to face Archie Manning and the Saints, who were still very much alive in the NFC West race (for you kids out there- Back in Olden Times, Atlanta and New Orleans were in the NFC West. No, it really didn't make any sense). 

Peyton and Eli's Dad was outdueled by Jim Zorn, who scorched the Saints for 384 yards and four touchdowns. Steve Largent snagged 9 of Zorn's passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Seattle would win 5 out of their last 6 to finish at 9-7, and the loss would keep Manning and the forlorn Saints from making their 1st-ever playoff appearance. Those aforementioned Rams edged New Orleans to take the NFC West, and would become the first 9-7 team to reach the Super Bowl. 

This game is notable for two main reasons. It's the last Seahawks home game that wasn't a sellout. I was there, and it was odd to see so many empty seats in our brand new stadium. Also, Ken Hamlin did this to Donte Stallworth: 

Despite almost dying ON THE FIELD, Stallworth had 8 catches for 101 yards that day. Shaun Alexander paced the Seahawks attack with 124 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, and the Hawks would start an undefeated (and subsequently sold out) 2003 home schedule. 

I was at this game in pre-Katrina New Orleans. This was back when Seahawks fans were still terrified at the prospect of a 10 am pacific road game to start the season, but Shaun Alexander's 166 total yards and three touchdowns led Seattle to a key road victory. Darrell Jackson chipped in with 7 catches for 98 yards, and the Hawks would run out to a 3-0 start before... well, I've blathered on about the torturous 2004 campaign before, haven't I? Here's some of what I wrote back then: 

Before the game there was a torrential downpour emptying its bowels upon the city… As I waited and waited and waited for the streetcar that would take me to the Superdome I got repeatedly soaked by passing cars… In a credit to all Saints fans, a cab driver in a Duece McCallister jersey gave me a ride to the Dome (for free no less! I tried to give him some cash, but he declined).. 

The Superdome reminded me of something out of a 70s vision of the future.. Very Logans Run/Rollerball. The best way to describe it (particularly for northwesterners) is to compare it to the old Kingdome. Imagine that they spent another $50 mil on the Kingdome putting down carpet, installing escalators, enclosing the ramps to the upper deck inside the building, and making it feel like a swanky convention center from 1976… Still a nice enough facility, but certainly of a bygone era.. Even the jumbotrons were quaintly small and fuzzy.. 

The game was technically a “sellout,” but it was blacked out on New Orleans TV and there was MAYBE a crowd of 45k on hand.. my section was less than half full, and most of the people in it were Seahawks fans (I got my tickets through the Hawks.. a special deal as a season ticket holder).. Generally the Saints fans were ok.. they seemed more interested in getting tipsy than giving me crap… 

Despite a week of national media build-up about how the Seahawks were oh so vulnerable, and about how the Saints would take down a Seattle team ripe for an upset, the Hawks dominated Drew Brees and his associates from start to finish. Brees was held to a meager 147 yards passing, and Russell Wilson gouged the New Orleans defense for 3 touchdown passes and 357 total yards. 

Once again, we're starting to hear about how the Saints will take advantage of (largely imaginary) Seattle deficiencies this Saturday. They won't learn until Russell Wilson is holding the Lombardi Trophy in a few weeks, will they? 

The "BeastQuake" is rightly recalled as the greatest play in franchise history, but what's gotten somewhat forgotten in the focus upon Lynch's heroic victory-sealing run is Matt Hasselbeck's virtuoso performance in his final home start as Seattle's quarterback. A week after Charlie Whitehurst led the Seahawks to a win over St. Louis to crawl into the playoffs at 7-9, many observers felt he should remain the starter against the defending World Champion Saints. Hasselbeck had limped to the 2010 finish line after a season where he had thrown only 12 TDs v 17 interceptions, only won 6 of his 14 starts, and posted a disappointing 73.2 passer rating. There wasn't much reason to hope that he'd lead Seattle to an upset win, but he tossed four touchdown passes to push the Hawks to a 34-30 4th quarter lead... and we all know what happened after that. 

I wrote this back then: 

I haven't gone more than a few hours without some total stranger remarking on how amazing the game was, or how loud the crowd was, or how Lynch's TD was the craziest run they'd ever seen. I've always worn my Seahawks fandom on my sleeve, and most of the time I have a "fuck you" attitude about it (because the most common reaction is usually "WHY are you a Seahawks fan?"), but since Saturday I've just been BEAMING with pride. 

There is such an intense sense of vindication right now for those of us who endured and stood by this team through the first 15 frustrating games of this season. For those of us who wished fervently for THIS team to prove the haters wrong, for those who never got fixated on next year's draft position, these have been a thoroughly satisfying few days. 

Has any Seahawks squad transformed its legacy in two weeks more than the 2010 version? On Boxing Day, you could have credibly argued that they were one of the 5 or 6 WORST teams the franchise has fielded. Now? They're one of only SIX squads (seven now) in franchise history to win a playoff game (1983, 1984, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010)! The legacy of Matt Hasselbeck was burnished, and Marshawn Lynch became a Seahawks legend based on a single, unbelievable play. No matter what happens in Chicago on Sunday (we'd lose 35-24), the Seahawks have reached the divisional playoffs four out of the last six years. Who else has made it to the NFL's "elite eight" four or more times since 2005? Baltimore, Indianapolis, New England and San Diego.

Here's the "SoundFX" treatment of that glorious win...

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