Seahawks top Saints, quiet doubters
The largest playoff home underdog and the first team to make the postseason with a losing record in NFL history, no one believed the Seattle Seahawks could defeat the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Not even with 66,336 towel-waving fans providing support at Qwest Field.
"You didn't believe," said veteran Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy tauntingly to a reporter in the locker room after the game.
It was easy not to believe in this roller-coaster season, including a final stretch during which the Seahawks lost seven of their final 10 games by at least 15 points.
And yes, this team knocked off an improved but inexperienced St. Louis team for the division title by relying on reserve quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to use his legs and not make mistakes.
Saturday was a different story. Saturday was the postseason, and the experience- and talent-rich Saints were led by Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees. This same team had already defeated the Seahawks in New Orleans earlier this year, 34-19.
"This is what we expect," Milloy said. "That's the thing that has been different over the last couple weeks. And I don't know what happened. We just know that we're not done."
That belief comes from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who somehow has managed to get Seattle playing with confidence when it matters most. Carroll echoed the comments from his defensive leader.
"Our players played together today in a way that gave us a chance to beat a championship club," Carroll said. "And even though the score wasn't where we would like it, it was great football game. And it was a game that was highlighted by guys believing."
Even though he had missed last week's game with a hip injury, veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had the most playoff experience of any quarterback in the NFC bracket.
But Hasselbeck settled down and played almost flawlessly, finishing 22 of 35 for 272 yards and four touchdowns. Hasselbeck had a 113 passer rating, and the win gave him No. 74 in his career with the Seahawks, making him the winningest quarterback in franchise history when counting regular-season and playoff games, one win better than Dave Krieg (73 wins).
"It was awesome, seeing my kids out there," Hasselbeck said. "I was doing an interview, and I saw my son Henry getting carried out by one of our guys. It was just really cool. I remember as a kid always wanting to go down on the field with my dad (New England tight end Don Hasselbeck), and I don't know if I ever did."
Hasselbeck could have played his final game at Qwest Field. He's in the final year of his contract, and with the inconsistent play that marred his season until Saturday, Seattle might be looking to get younger at quarterback, particularly with Whitehurst playing well in Week 17 in a playoff-like atmosphere against St. Louis.
But none of that was on Hasselbeck's mind on Saturday.
"I know you're talking about my contract being up this year and all that, but it's football," he said. "I'm sort of trained, it's sort of my mentality, you never know."
While Hasselbeck pondered the future, running back Marshawn Lynch considered the present, which included one of the best runs of the season, a physical 67-yard touchdown gallop to give Seattle a 41-30 lead with 3:22 left, putting the game away.
Playing in the first playoff game of his four-year career, Lynch gave credit to his blockers, a maligned and ever-changing group because of injuries and ineffectiveness, and said it was the biggest run of his career.
"The offensive line did a great job of getting me to the secondary and I think instincts just took over from there," he said.
Not only was Seattle expected to lose badly — Las Vegas made the Seahawks a 10.5-point home underdog, which had never happened before in the postseason — but no one expected them to beat New Orleans at their own game, winning a 41-36 shootout to advance to the next round of the NFC playoffs.
But there were a couple clues that may have provided a peek into the future.
The Saints came into Saturday's contest 0-3 on the road in the postseason, while the Seahawks were 4-1 in postseason contests at Qwest Field, including winning their last four here.
And surprisingly, the Seahawks are playing another week, even though they are still one win away from a.500 record this season at 8-9.
"It doesn't matter," Seahawks veteran receiver Brandon Stokley said. "We're still playing, that's all that matters right now. I know we're going to play a really good team, and we're going to have to play better than we did last week."
Eric Williams covers the Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune.