Posted January 12, 2014

First Down/Fourth Down: Seahawks down Saints, advance to NFC title game

New Orleans Saints, NFC South, NFC West, NFL Playoffs, Seattle Seahawks
Drew Brees struggled to find a rhythm in the hostile conditions in Seattle.

Drew Brees (center) struggled to find a rhythm in the hostile conditions in Seattle. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Jimmy Graham provided some pregame fireworks ahead of his team’s playoff matchup with Seattle, as he mixed it up with Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin during warmups. And then he disappeared for the rest of the day.

There were a lot of factors at play in the Saints’ inability to generate points Saturday — a brilliant effort from Seattle’s defense, two missed field goals, some very questionable play calling. But Graham has long been the Saints’ equalizer, having scored 16 touchdowns this season, with 86 receptions. They needed him more than ever in this one, up against arguably the best secondary in football.

Graham was targeted six times. He caught one pass, a short gainer in the closing seconds.

Brees struggled in the elements throughout the game (more on that shortly), so the opportunities to find Graham were few and far behind. When Brees did look Graham’s way, the Seahawks were all over the New Orleans tight end — a fact highlighted best by Earl Thomas’ flying pass defense on a third-down attempt.

The Saints found themselves in several other important third- and fourth-and-short situations, too, and Brees looked elsewhere on all of them.

More observations from the divisional round’s opener:

First Down: Bobby Wagner.

On a defense filled with rambunctious personalities, the second-year linebacker can slip under the radar a bit. But he put on display again Saturday why he’s become an irreplaceable Seahawk. He’ll even be forgiven for a rather unacceptable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third quarter, which took the Saints from a potential 3rd-and-15 and gave them an automatic first down. (Khiry Robinson appeared to turn the ball over with a fumble on that play, for what it’s worth, but the officials ruled him down and there was no challenge issued.)

MORE COVERAGE: Seahawks D leads way | Lynch makes loud statement | Schedule, analysis

Wagner helped put the clamps on that drive just a few plays later by sniffing out a 3rd-and-4 handoff to Darren Sproles and taking the Saints’ shifty RB down for a short gain. Drew Brees threw an incompletion on the ensuing 4th-and-3.

Earlier, Wagner almost single-handedly prevented the Saints from putting points on the board. On another 3rd-and-4 run, this time by Robinson from the Seattle 29, Wagner assisted on a tackle for no gain; on 4th-and-4, he made a leaping break up of Brees’ pass attempt to Marques Colston.

Fourth Down: Drew Brees … and Sean Payton.

The Saints used two of their second-half timeouts to avoid delay-of-game penalties. They spent their third on a failed challenge of a Doug Baldwin catch. That’s evidence enough of how out of sync Brees and Payton were on Saturday.

Brees had an opportunity to stifle the narrative that he’s a far better QB at home than he is on the road — even in victory last week at Philadelphia, Brees was up and down. Instead, he was unable to handle the noise or the conditions, with throw after throw (especially in the opening three quarters) sailing well off-target.

Payton’s play calling hardly helped. Worst of all was a 3rd-and-15 screen pass with the Saints trailing by eight, seemingly out of field goal range and with the clock winding down. The wind was in New Orleans’ face in the first and fourth quarters, which was a variable that had to factor in Payton’s approach. It was clear from the start, too, that the Saints wanted to establish their run game and limit Seattle’s possessions.

That gameplan backfired. It took into the fourth quarter for the Saints to find any sort of groove on offense, and it proved to be too little, too late.

First Down: Rob Ryan.

One of the stories of this season has been the impact of Ryan on the Saints’ once-embarrassing defense. That unit made incredible strides this season — right up to and including Saturday, as it kept New Orleans in the game despite a lackluster showing from the offense.

The Seahawks’ first points came after a shanked punt by the Saints. Their first touchdown happened only after Mark Ingram fumbled deep in his own territory. Even with the New Orleans offense gifting those points, Ryan managed to limit Russell Wilson’s effectiveness long enough to give his team a chance. The Saints defense sharpened even more in the second half, as Wilson failed to complete a pass during the third quarter.

Seattle did finally come up with two big plays on offense: Baldwin’s leaping grab on the sideline and a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run. Since the Saints offense pulled any safety net away from the defense, those breakthroughs were enough to seal the deal.

Fourth Down: Percy Harvin’s luck.

The Seahawks more or less waited all season for Harvin to get in the lineup — he had to talk the team out of placing him on injured reserve so that he could attempt a playoff comeback. We may not see him again during the 2013 season after he left Saturday’s game twice to undergo concussion testing.

The first injury, which occurred when the Saints’ Rafael Bush nailed him on a defenseless-receiver play, was just his second snap of the afternoon. He returned to the game long enough to make an acrobatic 16-yard reception for a first down. But after being smashed to the turf trying to make a catch in the end zone, his day, and possibly his season, wrapped up.

First Down: Marshawn Lynch.

The Saints probably would be fine if they never see Lynch again. Just a few seasons after his famous “Beast Mode” backbreaker against New Orleans, Lynch again punished the visitors. His 15-yard TD run through the arms of multiple defenders in the second quarter made it 13-0 Seattle; his 31-yard scamper with 2:48 left all but sealed the victory.

Lynch finished with two touchdowns and 140 yards rushing on 28 carries — accounting for more than half of Seattle’s 277 total yards.

Fourth Down: The Seahawks’ killer instinct.

Seattle did not hide during the second half the fact that it thought its defense could keep New Orleans from rallying. The Seahawks’ play calling — much like the Saints’ approach, at least early — dipped into ultra-conservative range. Because of that, a comfortable 16-0 lead nearly disintegrated, with New Orleans pulling to within eight and then threatening to drive for a tying score.

The Seahawks need just one more win to reach the Super Bowl, and they’ll host the NFC title game. They would be well-served to go for the throat should that chance present itself next weekend.

21 comments
500racquel
500racquel

I don't care how ya put it, the saints gave the seahawks a run for there money, especially in the fourth quarter with only 22 seconds on the clock, and to think about how  good the 49ers defense is, it's gonna be a rocky game. And as for my Jimmy Graham keep your head man, there's always next year. I wouldn't get any catches either if  they were doubling up on me too, but that's okay. Your still one of the best TE  in the NFL, and you've got a long and healthy journey ahead of you. 

btcvsolo
btcvsolo

I'm just glad I don't have to listen to anymore "Hurricane Katrina" blather for the rest of the season...

milsack
milsack

Seahawks won the game but I think luck had a lot to do with it.  The next time things will be different. Pundits are dissecting the result. http://po.st/UhFBQ9

CliffVititoe
CliffVititoe

I don't think that anyone was head hunting on that play , bush went in and the receiver was falling and that caused the hit...anyway I think that football is a violent game where being hit is unavoidable...if you don't want to take the hits don't play the game. I remember seeing Y.A.Tittle kneeling in the endzone bleeding in a championship game and he didn't make the money these guys make. He just loved the game...

Anicra
Anicra

Seahawks game is going to be the rally cry for people making a big deal on the Os play. It was a downpour until the last Q and there were 20 to 35mph winds the whole game. 

The Seahawks at home are going to find a way to win any game. 



EJ1
EJ1

The Seahawks have a lot of work to do if they want to win next week, especially if they play SF.  Getting Wilson going is priority #1.  Throw to the tight ends more, use play action more  and more effectively.  As well as Lynch was running, they should have been able to use play action better than they did.


Note to Dan Quinn and Pete Carroll:  KILL THE PREVENT DEFENSE FOREVER.  Your players play best when they man up!

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

The Seahawks took Graham out of the game. A few other guys had some nice catches, but not enough to make a difference.

MarcoZ
MarcoZ

I could not understand why the Saints were so conservative with their playcalling.  They ran why too much in the first half. 

6marK6
6marK6

Drew Brees is simply nothing close to what he once was. I think he got the Aaron Rogers acting bug.

Thomas15
Thomas15

Chip Kelly's gotta be sick he didn't hang more than 35 on that saints D. He knows he lost that won not got beat. And Eagles could beat the seahawks in seattle. They fall behind they're in serious trouble. Even the best teams in the NFL aren't great. 

Craig
Craig

Seems like a bit more should be mentioned regarding Bush's hit on Harvin.  It was completely unnecessary, and he was obviously headhunting with his helmet.  In college that hit gets you tossed, and it probably should have in this game too.  Hopefully there's a nice big fat fine coming...because it was clearly a page right out of the Pay for Injury book that the Saints had in the past.  That piece of video should be used to define "Chear Shot!"

ki.nazir72
ki.nazir72

The Hawks are in Beast Mode for sure!  Damned they are mean lol!

JPG
JPG

Perhaps the Seahawks got into Mr. Graham's head prior to the game.

Anyway, a little closer to what I expected.

Finally, we see a NFL game with some defense.  As it was meant to be.

Congrats to the Seahawks.  Your team has a defense one for the ages.

John Schneck
John Schneck

@MarcoZ 

Have you ever thrown a football in 25-30 mph winds and driving, cold rain?  I didn't think so.

Throwing beer cans from your armchair to the garbage can doesn't  count.



500racquel
500racquel

@6marK6 Russell Wilson is simply nothing close  to what he once was at the beginning of the season, however the 49ers will show proof of  that as the saints did.

fabio.fantone
fabio.fantone

@Thomas15 The Eagles would have been manhandled in Seattle. I think its pretty easy for everyone to come to that conclusion.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@Thomas15Hey tom, in the NFL, and all sports for that matter, losing and getting beat are the same thing.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@CraigI hope you aren't old enough to have watched the NFL ten years ago, or you are surely scarred for life by the violence of it all.  And the 1970's era NFL?  You could not handle it.  Three guys coming together on a wet field, as they all are falling to the ground, while two of the three are attempting to break up a pass, and this was intentional head hunting?   The NFL has created a new generation of drama queen fans.   By the way, what is a chear shot?

Mike26
Mike26

@ki.nazir72 Are you sure they won't be in Blunt Mode tonight to celebrate?

BaNosser
BaNosser

@JPG The Saints certainly came to play..  Tho the helmet shot on Harvin was uncalled for..  Lotta pride in the NO team..  but the better team won, even tho Carroll/Bevel went 'max protect' in the 3rd qtr refusing to even provide any chance for a turn over...  HopefullY Harvin can play next week.. just as Lewis did today.. and hopefully we get the whiners to beat up on the way to NJ