Seattle Seahawks 23-15 New Orleans Saints – as it happened
That’s it from me
Thanks for reading, and for all your tweets and emails. I’ll be back on Monday with our Five Things We Learned review of all the divisional playoff games, but until then you can continue to follow all the games here on theguardian.com. .
Living up to their seeding
It was not a flawless performance from Seattle, who struggled to move the ball through the air after Percy Harvin left the game, and who certainly did not dominate New Orleans as they had earlier in the season. And yet, were it not for two surprising dropped interceptions, this game would never have had the chance to even get close at the end. The Seahawks were deserving winners, and will be very hard to beat for whoever gets the shot next week. In the NFC, the path to Super Bowl XLVIII does indeed go through CenturyLink Field.
Game over! The Seahawks win 23-15 and advance to the NFC Championship Game!
A bizarre play to end the game, as Brees completes a pass to Colston, who then attempts a cross-field lateral but instead winds up throwing the ball very obviously forwards (and also incomplete). The receiver was right by the sideline when he made the catch and could easily have stepped out of bounds with time still on the clock. That would have given his team one chance for a Hail Mary throw to the end zone from around the Seattle 38. Not a high percentage play, perhaps, but not an impossible one, either. Certainly it would have made a lot more sense than whatever it was that this was supposed to be. There were technically still two seconds left on the clock when Colston’s illegal pass fell incomplete, but the penalty forces a 10-second run-off that ends the game.
Saints recover the onside kick!
Well, that’s part one! It wasn’t a great onside kick – Graham’s effort looking like it might not even make it 10 yards, but before it has time to cover that distance a Saints player falls on it, and allows the ball to bounce away off his chest. The Saints fall on the (now live) loose ball, and will have 26 seconds to try to force overtime.
“This is not over!” exclaims our Fox Sports commentator, as Brees connects with Colston in the middle of the end zone. Technically, he is correct. Realistically, with 26 seconds left, the Saints still need an awful lot of quite unlikely plays to go their way.
Saints 8-23 Seahawks, 1:03 remaining in 4th quarter
Earl Thomas is about to go to the NFC Championship game, but right now the only thing he’s thinking about is the helmet to the groin he just received as he collided with a team-mate in the end zone.
Two-minute warning: Saints 8-23 Seahawks
Brees hits Colston and Moore to move his team up to their 38-yard line, but surely we are just going through the motions now. New Orleans need a touchdown, a successful onside kick, and then another touchdown (with a two-point conversion somewhere in there two) just to force overtime.
Yup, that’ll do it. Marshawn Lynch tears off his biggest run of the day, aided by some tremendous blocking up front as he works his way around the left side of the line before thundering 31 yards down the sideline, delivering a mean stiff-arm to a defender as he goes. It might not have been quite as dramatic as his most famous playoff run against these opponents, but this was every bit as crucial.
Ruling confirmed! Saitns 8-16, 2:48, 4th quarter
The call on the field is upheld, meaning that not only do the Seahawks have the ball at the New Orleans 31, but the Saints have also just lost their final time-out.
Play under review. Saints 8-16 Seahawks, 2:48, 4th quarter
On third-and-three, the Seahawks take a gamble, Wilson airing the ball out for Doug Baldwin down the left sideline. The receiver makes a tremendous catch over Corey White, one that would be good for 24 yards down to the New Orleans 31. But did he have full control over the ball as he went to ground out of bounds? Sean Payton is challenging the call, and in that spot, frankly, he really has to. If the Seahawks get this, it might be game over.
Missed field goal! Saints 8-16 Seahawks, 3:51, 4th quarter
The laces were out this time, but the result was the same for Shayne Graham, who hooked his second kick of the game wide of the left-hand upright, just as he did with the first. In his defence, this one was a 48-yarder into strong winds. Had the Saints – nudged back by a delay of game penalty (with an assist from the 12th man), you have to imagine that Sean Payton would have kept the kicker on the sideline and just told his team to go for it.
Saints 8-16 Seahawks, 4:31, 4th quarter
Tip drill! Oh my, oh my, oh my. The Seahawks thought they had a turnover, Earl Thomas going up to get both hands on a long pass down the left sideline by Brees. But the safety – perhaps distracted by the team-mate who also seemed to be going up for the ball behind him – was unable to make the pick, the ball skipping off his fingers and landing in the hands of Robert Meachem instead. The receiver had nothing but open field ahead of him, but the need to check back and adjust for the (underthrown) ball stops him from making it all the way to the end zone. Instead he is brought down at the Seattle 25-yard line.
Saints 8-16 Seahawks, 5:31, 4th quarter
Yet again Rob Ryan’s defense digs in, forcing another three-and-out. Whatever the outcome of this game, his impact on New Orleans has been undeniable. Good thing Jerry Jones chased him out of Dallas before he had a chance to ruin the Cowboys’ playoff chances again, eh?
Saints 8-16 Seahawks, 7:11, 4th quarter
An absolute killer penalty for New Orleans, as Drew Brees’s 30-yard bomb down the left sideline to Kenny Stills is wiped out by a holding call. Two plays later, the quarterback is very lucky to avoid an interception as Kam Chancellor steps in front of a pass only to let the ball slip clean through his hands and fall to the floor. And after all that, there is still time for a tremendous defensive play by Seahawks safety Earl Bennett, leaping over Jimmy Graham to knock the ball out of the tight end’s hands. Still zero catches for Graham in this game, and that’s a pretty big testament to this Seattle defense. Morstead’s punt goes out of bounds near the Seattle 20-yard line.
Saints 8-16 Seahawks, 8:45, 4th quarter
Wasn’t the athletic, improvisational quarterback in this game supposed to play for Seattle? Drew Brees somehow escapes from a collapsing pocket, emerging unscathed from a mob of at least three pass rushers who had converged upon him to pitch a short pass over the middle that Marques Colston takes for 15 yards. If the Saints score on this drive, and go on to win the game, then you will be seeing a lot of this one on SportsCenter in the days to come.
Saints 8-16 Seahawks, 10:32, 4th quarter
A big tackle from Saints safety Roman Harper, who cuts down Russell Wilson a yard or two shy of the first down marker as the Seattle quarterback tries to go it alone on third-and-10 from his own 42. Jon Ryan’s punt is downed at the New Orleans six-yard line, but the mood at CenturyLink Field is beginning to shift. The Saints are beginning to believe that this game can be won, and the 12th Man is getting restless.
Saints 8-16 Seahawks, 12:14, 4th quarter
Seahawks trying to get a drive going here; they have the ball up to around their own 40-yard line. Meanwhile, fans in San Francisco and Carolina are watching with interest.
After running the ball on three successive plays on goal-to-go, the Saints do it again for the two-point conversion, Mark Ingram bulldozing his way in on the left. Suddenly, this is a one-touchdown ball-game.
And the Saints do get the ball across the line, Khiry Robinson with an impressively patient run, stretching the play out as he worked his way right across the line on third-and-goal before finally stepping into the end zone. New Orleans will go for two here.
End of 3rd quarter: Saints 0-16 Seahawks
No points in that third quarter, but are New Orleans finally finding their groove on offense? After consecutive completions from Brees to Josh Hill and Marques Colston, and then a short run by Mark Ingram, the Saints are down to the Seattle 11-yard line. But a field goal will not be enough here. If they are to find a way back into this game, you have to think they need to put this one into the end zone.
Saints 0-16 Seahawks, 2:38, 3rd quarter
Three-and-out for Seattle, and you have to give credit to Rob Ryan’s defense. They have held up their end of the bargain for New Orleans, restricting Russell Wilson to just 68 yards passing so far, and forcing Marshawn Lynch to work for everything that he gets. The back has 94 yards on the day, but his longest run went for just 18 – a far cry from what happened the last time these teams met in a playoff game.
Turnover on downs! Saints 0-16 Seahawks, 4:13, 3rd quarter
Another fourth-down failure for New Orleans, Lance Moore unable to make the one-handed catch as he reaches out for Brees’s pass over the middle of the field. Where is Jimmy Graham? Zero catches for the tight end so far in this game, and very few targets, either. The Seahawks are shifting their coverages towards him, but haven’t we been told all season that this guy was close to uncoverable? The Saints need to find a way to exploit the mismatches that his size and speed can give them.
Saints 0-16 Seahawks, 5:41, 3rd quarter
A bullet dodged for New Orleans, as Khiry Robinson fumbles the ball on second down near his own 40-yard line, but officials rule that he was already down. Replays show that, while his knee had touched the turf a second or so before the ball was dislodged from his grasp, nobody touched him down, and Robinson got up to keep running. That should have been Seattle’s ball, but instead New Orleans get a fresh set of downs as Bobby Wagner is flagged for a personal foul. It occurred after the end of the play, so it does not change the fact that the ball should have gone to Seattle.
Saints 0-16 Seahawks, 6:34, 3rd quarter
The Seahawks cannot keep things going this time, Lynch dragged down for a short loss on third down at his own 23-yard line. But we are already more than half way through the third quarter, and New Orleans still have no points on the board. Time is running out for the Saints to start making things happen – not least because they have the wind at their backs in this quarter. The going will only get tougher once we get into the fourth.
Saints 0-16 Seahawks, 8:32, 3rd quarter
Seattle looked set for a quick three-and-out, but on third down Marshawn Lynch fires out around left tackle and smashes his way to a 12-yard gain. The Seahawks would like nothing better right now than a nice long, time-consuming drive. They are among the best in the league at those.
You and me both, Jawsh. Worth it every time.
Saints 0-16 Seahawks, 9:59, 3rd quarter
Just as they have been doing all game, the Saints follow up their two steps forward with a big one back in the opposite direction. Brees is sacked by Cliff Avril on third-and-nine, taking his team out of field goal range, and instead Thomas Morstead comes back out to punt. He pins the Seahawks back at their six-yard line.
Saints 0-16 Seahawks, 12:10, 3rd quarter
In the space of two passes, Drew Brees almost doubles his first-half output, connecting with Marques Colston and then Robert Meachem for a combined 33 yards. First down New Orleans at the Seattle 35-yard line.
Saints 0-16 Seahawks, 13:34, 3rd quarter
Three-and-out for the Seahawks to start the half. Percy Harvin, whose head ricocheted awkwardly off the floor following an incomplete pass in the end zone on Seattle’s final drive, will not return to the game. He finishes with three catches for 21 yards.
Seattle will get the football to start the second-half. And they will get it at their 20-yard line, after another touchback.
That said …
… if you’re in Kansas City for a sporting event, save yourself the line at the stadium and just go get a Z-Man sandwich from OK Joe’s before the game. And maybe another one again afterwards. You won’t regret it.
More stadium snacking
So, how many Beast Mode burgers will be sold at half-time in Seattle? And how many of the fans eating it will get a little experimental and try putting the Skittles inside the burger (before realising what a terrible mistake that was)? Me, I’d rather have some of what this reader is touting on Twitter:
Despite living nearby, I’ve never actually made it to the Royals’ stadium (did I mention the bit about me not being so keen on baseball) but I’m going to be honest, in my two years of living in Missouri so far, I’ve not met a barbeque meal that I didn’t like. They do it right out here.
Half-time: Saints 0-16 Seahawks
Drew Brees, who threw for 5,162 yards in the regular season, has managed just 34 so far in this game. He has completed five of 12 passes so far. Pretty clear where the Saints need to improve if they are going to have a chance of getting back into this game.
Saints 0-16 Seahawks, 1:12, 2nd quarter
After some extended shenanigans with a ball that simply would not stay on a kicking tee, the Seahawks finally kick off. Sproles takes the ball out of the end zone, but gets only as far as the 16-yard line. Seventy-two seconds left for the Saints to put some points on the board before the half.
Field goal! Saints 0-16 Seahawks, 1:22, 2nd quarter
The Saints dig in, limiting the damage to a field goal despite a defensive holding call that kept the drive alive after the two-minute warning. They have a lot to thank Cam Jordan for, the defensive end showing exceptional speed and understanding of the angles to track down Russell Wilson on third-and-goal as the quarterback attempted to take the ball in on a bootleg run. Still more thana minute left on the clock – time enough for New Orleans to respond, although they do not have any time-outs left.
Two-minute warning: Saints 0-13 Seahawks
Oh Russell Wilson. The quarterback had been quietly efficient up to this point, but he showed a little more flair on the alst two leading into the TV time-out, evading the pass rush and rolling out of the pocket to connect with Jermaine Kearse on a 25-yard pass to the New Orleans 15, before scrambling for another seven himself. Seattle will have second-and-three when we resume.
In other news, this new Pepsi commercial in which they claim to have invented half-time is really, really irritating. I’d post a link, but that would only encourage them.
Saints 0-13 Seahawks, 4:20, 2nd quarter
Heckuva catch from Percy Harvin, going up to pull in a short a lofted 16-yard pass from Russell Wilson above cornerback Corey Graham. First-down Seattle at the New Orleans 35. Another touchdown here before the half could be fatal for the Saints. In fact, reader Jim Nolan thinks they're already done for:
13-0. This one's already over, no matter how well the Saints recover.
Turnover on downs! Saints 0-13 Seahawks, 6:02, 2nd quarter
It all started so well for the Saints, Khiry Robinson slipping away for 17 yards on a play where most Seattle players thought he had already been tackled (in reality he fell on top of a defender, and therefore never actually went to ground). But Seattle’s defense stiffened, and three plays later Drew Brees’s pass was batted down on fourth-and-four at the Seattle 29. The quarterback had a man wide open over the middle of the field, but failed to account for Bobby Wagner’s ability to jump between them and block his passing lane.
Saints 0-13 Seahawks, 8:54, 2nd quarter
The Seahawks cannot dig themselves out of that hole, and are forced to punt. It’s not a good punt from Jon Ryan, either, traveling only 24 yards to the New Orleans 48. For the first time today, New Orleans will start a drive with good field position.
Saints 0-13 Seahawks, 10:11, 2nd quarter
For a moment there it looked as though Robert Turbin was about to steal Lynch’s thunder, the Seahawks’ second-string running back bouncing off right tackle and racing away for a 37-yard gain. But then it gets called back for a holding penalty against tight end Luke Wilson. And, to be fair, it really was. First-and-10 at the New Orleans 35 becomes second-and-13 at the Seattle 18.
Saints 0-13 Seahawks, 13:06, 2nd quarter
Time for Drew Brees to start throwing the ball, but so far the ball does not seem to be coming out of his hand quite right. He throws three consecutive incompletions – all of them wobbling awkwardly toward their intended targets – as the Saints’ drive stalls. At least Morstead got off a good (make that great) punt at the end of it, booming the ball away to the Seattle 14. A holding penalty will back the Seahawks up even further, too.
Here’s another stadium food suggestion from Twitter:
I’ll have to take your word for it. Personally I’m a little wary of well-hyped stadium potatoes, ever since standing in line for more than an innings to try the really-not-that-exciting crab fries sold at the Phillies’ Citizen Bank Park. Good thing I don’t like baseball all that much.
Seattle waste no time in punishing that latest mistake, Lynch bulling his way into the end zone on a 15-yard run after Harvin (who seems to have recovered from that early hit) made up the first nine on a short reception. Just like that, the complexion of this game has changed.
Fumble! Saints 0-6 Seahawks, 14:51, 2nd quarter
Oh. Having just praised the Saints for their cautious gameplan, it backfires spectacularly – Mark Ingram fumbling on a carry up the middle. For the second time in three possessions, Seattle will get to start a drive inside New Orleans territory – this time at the 24-yard line.
End of 1st quarter: Saints 0-6 Seahawks
Not an explosive start to this game, but a perfectly compelling one. The Saints seem to have the right gameplan for the circumstances – run the football, play good defense and wait for this Seahawks defense to make a mistake, rather than give them the opportunity to punish you for doing the same. But New Orleans will still need to take their chances, which they notably did not do on that missed kick from Graham.
Field goal! Saints 0-6 Seahawks, 0:37, 1st quarter
Seattle extend their advantage, Lynch not quite engaging Beast Mode but ripping off a few nice short runs as his team chug their way from their own 35 up to the New Orleans 31, from where Hauschka converts a 49-yard kick. Meanwhile, I’ve had a few nominations for best snack at a sports stadium. Here’s one from Rachael Perks to get us going:
‘Dan Marino should die of gonorrhoea and rot in hell …
… would you like a cookie?'
Let’s hope that Shayne Graham’s mom is a little more forgiving, eh?
Missed field goal! Saints 0-3 Seahawks, 5:03, 1st quarter
And just like that, all the good work is undone, Shayne Graham pulling his 45-yard attempt wide of the left-hand upright. This one might be on the holder, Luke McCown. Replays show the laces were in.
Saints 0-3 Seahawks, 7:20, 1st quarter
Just as they did in Philadelphia, the Saints are working their backfield here to great effect. When it’s not Mark Ingram dragging defenders upfield, it’s Khiry Robinson taking screen passes in the flats and slipping tackles for a first-down gain. Five plays into this drive, they are already up to the Seattle 33.
Saints 0-3 Seahawks, 10:19, 1st quarter
Another kickoff, and another touchback for Hauschka. Let’s see if the Saints can do any better with the ball this time around. At least one of our readers likes New Orleans's chances today. Here’s Michael Aston on email:
I fancy the Saints , if Carson Palmer can go into the sonic boom and win, Brees surely will light 'em up… By the way, surely the 49ers are the faces from the NFC, 7-game winning streak and looking dominant on both sides of the ball?
I’m not sure Carson Palmer really won in Seattle as much as that Arizona defense won despite of him, but your point is certainly taken. And San Francisco are looking pretty good right now. Timing is everything in the , and they are hot at the right time. That said, they have a tough match-up this week in Carolina (one that I have them losing …)
Field goal! Saints 0-3 Seahawks, 10:19, 1st quarter
Still a strong defensive stand for the Saints, who gobble up a pair of Lynch runs before dragging down receiver Doug Baldwin after a short gain on third-and-nine. The Seahawks have to settle for a kick, which Hauschka converts from 39 yards.
Saints 0-0 Seahawks, 12:19, 1st quarter
After all that pre-game talk, it is not the Seahawks, but instead the Saints whose secondary gives away the first penalty of the game, Rafael Bush penalised for a dangerous hit on an unprotected Percy Harvin after the receiver had failed to reel in a pass from Wilson down the left sideline. A costly penalty – the Seahawks would have had fourth-down at the 41, but now have a first-down in field goal range – but bad news for Seattle, too, as Harvin (whose status had been uncertain during the week) looks like he might be seriously hurt.
Saints 0-0 Seahawks, 13:39, 1st quarter
Not the start that New Orleans were hoping for. The Saints go three-and-out on their opening drive, before Thomas Morstead gets off just a 16-yard punt to give Seattle great starting field position at the visitors’ 40-yard line. Watching the replay, the Saints were lucky that things did not go a whole lot worse. The punt snap was off-target and hit Morstead in the thigh, but he managed to grab hold of it and just barely get the punt off before the rush arrived.
Here we go! The opening kickoff goes straight out the back of the end zone, and New Orleans will start at their own 20-yard line. You will not be surprised to hear that they are GETTING LOUD!!! at CenturyLink Field right now. Meanwhile, a potentially significant point raised on Twitter by Aram Mushegian:
Indeed it is. We'll see how closely that guidance is observed.
Seahawks win the coin toss...
... and defer to the second half. The Saints will get the ball first.
Good anthem. Not overstated. Might have missed on one note at the end.
On sale at CenturyLink Field today: a new Marshawn Lynch burger: served with a side of Skittles – the back’s favourite gameday candy.
This got me to thinking: what is the best snack sold at a sports stadium concession? The Gateway Grizzlies, a minor-league baseball team based in East St Louis, were featured on Man vs Food with their Krispy Kreme burger - a beef patty topped with cheese and served between two halves of a toasted doughnut, but can we do any better? Let me know about the finest food you've ever sampled at a sports stadium by dropping me an email or sending me a tweet at the addresses listed at the top of this article.
So, why is that Seahawks defense so good? The answer, without question has many layers. Seattle are unquestionably loaded with talent, featuring one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Richard Sherman and a solid pass-rushing duo in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. They also spend less time on the field than a lot of teams’ defenses – thanks to an offense that dominates time of possession.
But also made the case that the Seahawks’ defensive success owes a lot to straightforward cheating. As Kevin Clark and Jonathan Clegg wrote:
The Seattle Seahawks—the favorites to make the Super Bowl out of the NFC—employ an exasperating defensive game plan: They blitz rarely and drop an army of defenders into pass coverage. And those defenders mug, obstruct and foul opposing receivers on practically every play.
Seattle had 13 defensive pass interference calls made against them this season – the most of any team in the league – but the truth is that NFL officials do not call the penalty nearly as often as they could. And as former NFL vice-president of officiating Mike Pereira told the Wall Street Journal:
They [the Seahawks] look at it and say, 'We may get called for one but not 10.
The bad news for Saints fans is that those calls tend to get even more rare in the playoffs. Officials, not wanting to be lambasted for taking too prominent a role in the game, seem more keen than ever to, in the common parlance, “let them play”.
Well then, divisional playoff weekend. A good many football fans will tell you that this is their favourite time of the year – offering the perfect balance of quality and quantity. The teams are better (in theory at least) than they were in the Wildcard round, and unlike Super Bowl Sunday or the Conference Championship games, there is still enough on-field action to take over an entire weekend.
That said, the bar this season has been set higher than usual. This weekend’s games would have to go some way to top the drama of , and a .
We start in Seattle, where those Saints will face an altogether more daunting task. Their hosts are widely considered to enjoy the best homefield advantage of any team in the league, buoyed by the raucous 12th Man. After two separate record-breaking attempts this season, the crowd at CenturyLink Field has been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the loudest at any outdoor stadium in the world.
But noise disruption is not the only reason for the Saints to feel daunted. There is also the simple fact that these Seahawks are very good – posting a 13-3 record, joint-best in the league, despite playing in what is probably the best division in the NFL. Seattle beat New Orleans 34-7 in week 13, inspiring this rather brilliant drawing from Pixar animator Austin Madison.
Will things go differently this time around? The bad news for the Saints is that the rain is coming down hard in Seattle right now – a fact that will do their high-volume passing game no favours. But New Orleans showed that they have more than one string to their bow last weekend in Philadelphia, catching the Eagles off-guard by running the ball early and often.
Repeating that performance against Seattle’s league-best defense will be no mean feat. Neither will slowing down an offense led by quarterback Russell Wilson and co-starring Marshawn Lynch. The last time these two met in a playoff game, the running back introduced the world to Beast Mode, and might even have caused an earthquake in the process. ( But everyone still likes to say he did anyway.)
So how do you see this one shaking out. Let me know by email at [email protected] or on Twitter . I’ll be including a selection of your comments throughout the live blog.