Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hasselbeck leads Seahawks stunning win over defending Super Bowl Champions Saints 41-36

By Kshell

All week long the Seattle Seahawks were being bashed on as the first team in NFL history to not only make the playoffs but host a playoff game with a losing record(7-9). All week long nobody gave the Seattle Seahawks a chance as they were a double digit home underdog to the defending champions New Orleans Saints. These are the same Saints who defeated the Seahawks earlier in the year 34-19 which you can read here. What you'll notice in that first contest is the play of Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck threw for 333 yards that game while today he set playoff career highs in touchdown passes.

The game started off as no surprise to anyone who follows football. The Saints took the opening possession and drove down the field on the Seahawks defense. Drew Brees had torched the Seahawks earlier in the year and he would once again have another big game. The Saints would stall in the red zone eventually and have to settle for a Garrett Hartley 26 yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. The Seahawks would then throw an interception on their first possession which wasn't Matt Hasselbeck's fault as the ball tipped off of Ben Obomanu's hands. The Saints would once again take advantage of the short field going 35 yards in eight plays ending when Brees would hit former Seahawks fullback Heath Evans on a one yard touchdown pass. The Saints took a 10-0 lead. It was looking like another Seahawks blow out but Hasselbeck had other plans.

The Saints trying to kick away from dangerous return man Leon Washington chose to kick the ball short at first. That meant the Seahawks offense would have great field position at their own 43 yard line. That is when Hasselbeck started to prove why Pete Carroll named him the starter as I discussed yesterday. After a Marshawn Lynch six yard run, Hasselbeck would hit Mike Williams for a gain of 10 yards, then Obomanu for a gain of 10 yards. Lynch would rush for 10 more yards to the Saints 21 yard line. After a short completion to Stokley and a five yard penalty on the Saints the Seahawks had the ball on the Saints 11 yard line. That is when the Seahawks faked the run and hit fantasy football bust tight end John Carlson for an 11 yard touchdown strike from Hasselbeck to pull within 10-7.

In the second quarter the Saints behind Drew Brees would answer right back with a 10 play 78 yard drive. On the drive Brees was four for five passing for 53 yards. The Saints ran the ball five times for 25 yards including the third and four from the Seahawks five yard line draw to former Seahawks running back Julius Jones for a five yard touchdown run to put the Saints back up 17-7. Jones became the first player in playoff history to score a touchdown against a team that he had played for during that season. The Seahawks for the second time would have to try and overcome a 10 point lead.

Thankfully for the Seahawks Hasselbeck brought his "A" game today. Hasselbeck would hit Obomanu for a gain of 12 yards. After a first down and a run of three yards by Lynch the Seahawks faced a second and seven from the Saints 46 yard line. Hasselbeck had a beautiful pump and go to Cameron Morrah for a gain of 39 yards. Hasselbeck led Morrah beautifully on the pass. The very next play Carlson would intentionally fall down as Hasselbeck rolled to his right then threw back to his left for a wide open Carlson for the touchdown. Carlson who had just one touchdown all season long caught his second touchdown of the game to pull the score within 17-14. A few series later the Saints running back Julius Jones would fumble the ball which Marcus Trufant recovered. The Seahawks would have to settle for a 29 yard field goal by Olindo Mare to tie up the score 17-17.

The Seahawks after trading punts would have the ball with five minutes to go in the half with the score tied at 17-17. The goal was to not only score but make sure Brees didn't have enough time to score a touchdown themselves. Facing a third and 11 from their own 23 Hasselbeck hit a quick pass to Ruvell Martin in the slot for a gain of 15 for a first down. Then facing a third and one, Justin Forsett barely got another Seahawks first down. Later in the drive the Seahawks were facing a third and three from the Saints 45 yard line when Hasselbeck dropped back in the pocket had ton of options but decided to go deep. Hasselbeck once again delivered a perfect pass to Brandon Stokley for a 45 yard touchdown to give the Seahawks a 24-17 lead. That would be a playoff career high three touchdown passes for Hasselbeck. The Saints would then march down the field and settle on a 22 yard Hartley field goal to give the Seahawks a 24-20 lead at halftime.

In the second half Hasselbeck continued to be red hot passing. After a Lynch four yard run Hasselbeck would hit Mike Williams for a gain of 11 yards to their own 36 yard line. Hasselbeck would hit Obomanu for a gain of 18 to the right on a beautifully thrown fade route. He would hit Forsett for a gain of nine yards, after a failed fake half back pass attempt the Seahawks were facing a third and two on the Saints 38 yard line. Hasselbeck then threw a perfect pass in double coverage to Williams for a 38 yard touchdown. Williams who had just one touchdown prior to last week has now scored a touchdown in back to back weeks. The Seahawks were up 31-20 at that point in the game. The Seahawks after getting a stop would have to settle for a Mare 39 yard field goal after a key dropped pass on third down. The Seahawks would lead 34-20.

The Seahawks would blow a golden opportunity to put the defending Super Bowl champions away once and for good. Facing a third and three from his own 35 yard line Brees hit Julius Jones out of the backfield for a gain of two and a half yards. Kelly Jennings made a terrific tackle on Jones to stop him short. After the lines judge measured the spot the Saints were one inch short of the first down. Trailing by 14 points but with four minutes to go in the third quarter Sean Payton decided to for it on fourth down. Payton then handed off to Jones who was blown up and stopped short of the first down. The Seahawks up 14 points had the ball on the Saints 37 yard line. Due to a dropped pass and a delay of game the Seahawks got nothing out of that opportunity.

The Saints took advantage of new life driving down the field 87 yards in 12 plays. On the drive Brees was seven for nine passing for 57 yards on the drive. The drive ended on another touchdown run by Julius Jones from four yards out. The Saints would then three and out the Seahawks again and go on an eight play 53 yard drive which was stop short at the Seahawks three yard line. Brees facing a third and three from the Seahawks four yard line hit Devey Henderson on a quick throw but Seahawks rookie safety Earl Thomas came up to disrupt the play which stopped the Saints short. The Saints would have to settle for a 21 yard field goal by Hartley to close the Seahawks lead to 34-30.

The Seahawks offense would be stopped again but due to a great 52 yard punt by Jon Ryan and a Saints penalty they had to start from their own six yard line. Brees would immediately pick up 11 yards on a pass to Reggie Bush. Then the 12th man would strike as the Saints would have their third false start penalty of the game. Facing a second and 15 from their own 12 yard line Brees dumped it off to Heath Evans for a gain of seven. With four minutes and change left in the game Brees would throw an incomplete pass. The Saints would be forced to punt the ball to the Seahawks with four minutes to go. The Seahawks who couldn't run all year had to try and find a way to milk the clock out to extend their season. Instead the Seahawks would only last 58 seconds but that wasn't a bad thing either.

The Seahawks would turn to Marshawn Lynch who went "beast mode" on the Saints. After getting stuff up the middle for no gain facing a second and 10 from their own 33 yard line the Seahawks decided to run Lynch again. This time Lynch would bust the longest run of his career, longest run in Seahawks postseason history and possibly the greatest playoff run given the importance of the run in playoff history. Lynch would make eight Saints miss tackles on his 67 yard touchdown run which began as a simple run up the middle which went from a gain of four to the fans being excited about him getting a first down, then he would stiff arm a defender and keep running and make another defender miss. Just for good measure Lynch would make one last Saint defender miss a tackle at around the two yard line. Lynch's touchdown run put him over 100 yards for the first time this year and would give the Seahawks a commanding 41-30 lead with three minutes to play in the game.

The Saints were not ready to give up just so easily they would march down the field 70 yards in nine plays. Brees would hit Devery Henderson for a six yard touchdown pass to pull within 41-36. The Saints would then go for two and hand the ball off to DeShawn Wynn who was stuffed on the two point try. With 1:30 left in the game and only having one timeout the Saints were forced to onside kick it. The man who caught the first two touchdowns of the game John Carlson made the easy catch on the kick which was kicked right to him. The Seahawks after two running plays took a knee and pulled off the shocking upset 41-36 over the Saints.

The Seahawks the team that everyone scoffed at making the playoffs will advance to see another week. A team who had won just nine games the prior two seasons has now won a division title, won a playoff game and knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions. Pete Carroll said he took this Seahawks job because he didn't want to rebuild with a new quarterback. Hasselbeck suffered through a year below his standards but ended todays game completing 22 of 35 passes for 272 yards with four touchdown passes and just the one interception which wasn't his fault. Hasselbeck would enjoy a quarterback rating of 113.0. Not bad for a guy whose own fans were chanting his backup just three weeks ago. As for his counterpart well Drew Brees certainly isn't to be blamed completing 39 of 60 passes for 404 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

When it came down to it the Seahawks had a running game while the Saints didn't. Marshawn Lynch finished with 19 carries for 131 yards(6.9 YPC) with a touchdown while the Seahawks previous starting running back Julius Jones ran for 59 yards on 15 carries(3.9 YPC) with two touchdowns but a costly fumble. The Seahawks had great production from their three receivers, two of whom were picked up in the offseason off the scrap heap. Mike Williams playing in his first playoff game finished with five receptions for 68 yards a touchdown, Brandon Stokley finished with four receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown while Ben Obomanu had five receptions for 43 yards.

All in all the Seahawks live to see another week. After the city of Seattle suffering through so much losing over the past couple of years this has been a nice change of pace. This is by no means a great Seahawks team but this team will be remembered with fond memories. The Seattle Supersonics in the 1986-87 season became the first NBA team in playoff history to win a playoff series with a losing record. That team went to the Western Conference Finals before losing to eventual World Champions Los Angeles Lakers. Now that wasn't a great team but that team is remembered with good memories. These Seahawks have created some memories fans of the Northwest will never forget. Most importantly Matt Hasselbeck proved he was the right choice for Pete Carroll and they both have another week of football.


- Matt Hasselbeck has played plenty of great games as Seattle Seahawk in his career. Perhaps he might play a few more great games going forward. I doubt Hasselbeck ever has or ever will play a game like this given the circumstances. The circumstances was the Seahawks were in the playoffs and Hasselbeck threw for four touchdowns. The other circumstance was 35 points meant a loss so it was important to score 41 points.

Hasselbeck tied Walter Jones franchise record today with his 10th career playoff start which he'll break next week. Hasselbeck also has five career playoff wins including five consecutive playoff wins at Qwest Field. Hasselbeck today by throwing a touchdown pass has thrown a touchdown pass in nine consecutive playoff games. He trails only Brett Favre(20) and Tom Brady(14) who are both first ballot Hall of Famers, not even Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Donavan McNabb have longer streaks than Hasselbeck. The only game Hasselbeck didn't throw a touchdown he threw for over 300 yards and Shaun Alexander scored on three one yard touchdown runs. Hasselbeck is a proven playoff warrior now.

Hasselbeck had to be on his "A" game today because Drew Brees was as well. Ultimately it was Hasselbeck who won this great scoring battle that will remind fans of the classic Chargers-Dolphins game of 1981(played in January of 1982). Hasselbeck won the battle against a former Super Bowl MVP and in doing so maybe he finally quieted his critics. He deserves his fair share of blame for throwing picks but chanting "Charlie!" or suggesting he is a bum is a disgrace. Hasselbeck is the greatest Seahawks quarterback this franchise has ever had. We should be thankful Brett Favre's unprofessional attitude didn't rub off on Hasselbeck.

Hasselbeck was huge this game and I couldn't think of a better Seahawk than him to be the hero. I know he isn't a hall of famer and most outside the Northwest never thought he was good but when he retires his #8 should be hanging in the rafters. When Hasselbeck is on like he was today he is still an elite quarterback. This is why Carroll started Hasselbeck over Whitehurst.

- All week people were debating who should raise the 12th man flag. Once I learned Walter Jones had not raised the 12th man flag I was thinking this was a no brainer decision. Glad to see our future hall of famer raise the 12th man flag. I noticed in warm ups he was on the field by Hasselbeck. Maybe just his presence brought the good mojo to Hasselbeck and the running game I don't know.

Jones with the Seahawks made the Pro Bowl a franchise record nine times(1999,2001-08) while also being named first team all-pro four times(2001,2004,2005,2007). Big Walt is only the second player in franchise history(our first and to date only Hall of Famer Steve Largent is the other) to have his number retired. It was a great site to see big Walter Jones raise the 12th man flag. Like I said maybe that inspired the offensive line who allowed just one sack all game and opened up good running lanes for Marshawn Lynch.

- Every championship team has a few players who are talented but underachievers before they arrived to their team. The good teams get the most out of that talented player. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks have done exactly that with wide receiver Mike Williams. Williams who ate himself out of the league didn't play in 2008 and 2009 was coming off a seven catch season in 2007. Williams the former 10th pick of the Detroit Lions in 2005 back when they took a receiver every year in the first round looked like he blew his chance.

Reunited with his old college coach Pete Carroll, Williams has had a huge comeback season. For the year Williams caught 65 passes for 751 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games. Williams also caught 40 first downs as he quickly developed to be Matt Hasselbecks favorite wide receiver. Williams earlier this week was rewarded with a three year contract extension. Williams playing in his first playoff game today had a great game with 68 yards receiving with five receptions and a touchdown. Williams has been a great bargain pick up for the Seahawks a sign that Carroll can coach up underachieving talent.

- The Seahawks traded a fourth and a fifth round pick to the Buffalo Bills to acquire Marshawn Lynch for games like today. Last week in the second half to clinch the NFC West championship Lynch ran for 70 yards to control the clock and grind out points for the Seahawks.

This week Lynch constantly running hard was setting Hasselbeck up on third and shorts because he would get those gains of four on first or second down. Then with the game on the line the Seahawks who haven't had a running game since 2005 Lynch went into full "beast mode". Lynch broke eight tackles on his 67 yard touchdown run. Nevermind the playoffs that is one of the best runs you'll ever see. Given that it was the playoffs and that there was four minutes left in the game that run has to rank up there amongst the best runs of all-time. Lynch is a talented back and with an actual offensive he can be a very productive back.

After being stuck up in Buffalo with no chance of making the playoffs Lynch is finally getting a shot. He may still be on a bad team and his line in Buffalo can't be any worse than in Seattle but at least for Lynch he is playing in big games. Hopefully the Seahawks can work out a deal for Lynch as he does run very hard. Give Lynch the line Alexander had in 2005 and he might have ran for over 2,000 yards.

- I'm going to sing the praises of Pete Carroll once again. Carroll inherited a truly bad roster due to Tim Ruskell apparently not knowing anything about football. After the controversial firing of Jim Mora after one year, releasing big names(T.J.Houshmandzadeh), the way Carroll left USC, etc it was looking like Carroll was going to be taking a ton of heat this time of year.

Instead Carroll like Mike Holmgren and Chuck Knox led the Seahawks to the playoffs in his first year. In fact Carroll is the first Seahawks coach to ever win the division title and a playoff game in his first year as Seahawks head coach. Carroll has brought that winning swagger to Seattle which the players desperately needed. This is also a roster in transition. Only three guys on offense(Matt Hasselbeck, Sean Locklear, Chris Spencer) started the last Seahawks playoff game which was just three years ago. On defense only four guys(Brandon Mebane, Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings and Lofa Tatupu) started the last Seahawks playoff game just three years ago and neither kicker was on the team. As you can see he inherited a team in a bit of a transition.

Carroll has the players believing in him and most importantly in themselves. He has taken guys nobody wanted and made them into something. He took Leon Washington, Chris Clemons, Mike Williams and Brandon Stokley and made them valuable key contributers with the Seahawks. Him and John Schneider had a terrific draft which saw them net two huge starters in Earl Thomas at safety and Russell Okung at left tackle. Carroll's work is just beginning in the offseason but at least he is giving the players a taste of success to build on for the future.

At the end of the day as fans that is all we can ask for from our sports teams. Just give us hope and a chance each week. I love the fact that in the divisional round of the playoffs I get to watch my favorite team play once again. I get another week of talking about the Seahawks with my friends and family. Another week of hearing people talk about the Seahawks. As a diehard sports fan of a team especially a Seattle sports team you often wonder why you are a fan and put up with such misery. This is why because when your team finally does something it is so much sweeter. You think the Patriots fans will be this excited if they win next week? Heck no they won't. Congrats to the Seahawks for giving me another week of cheering on my favorite team!

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