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Sports Then and Now

Embarrassing No More: Seahawks Surprise the Saints

Posted on January 09, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Matt Hasselbeck tossed four touchdown passes to lead the Seahawks past New Orleans.

Some, including an article on this site, suggested that the Seattle Seahawks should be embarrassed to be playing in the NFL Playoffs with a losing regular season record. Well, instead of tucking their tails between their legs and sleeking off quietly into the night, the Seahawks pulled off one of the more surprising playoffs upsets in recent memory with a 41-36 victory over the defending Super Bowl Champions.

Because they have endured three straight losing seasons with three different coaches, it is easy to forget that for much of the 2000s, the Seahawks were a regular playoff visitor and their roster still includes a number of players with playoff experience and significance pride.

Perhaps the best personification of that past and that pride is quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

A three-time Pro Bowler and key reason the Seahawks went 13-3 and reached the Super Bowl in 2005, Hasselbeck has endured injuries and uncertainty over the last three years.

Despite being healthy enough to have probably played, Hasselbeck was held out of the do-or-die final game of the regular season against the St. Louis Rams. Many wondered if Hasselbeck had taken his final snap for the Seahawks.

But with his 7-9 squad heading into the playoffs to face the defending champions, head coach Pete Carroll called on the experienced Hasselbeck, rather than Charlie Whitehurst (who made only his second career start in the win over the Rams) to lead his team into what most expected to be a slaughter.

From the very beginning, there was something unfamiliar and uncomfortable about the game between the Saints and Seahawks. Seemingly everyone in America already knew how it would end, but after a predictable start the game seemed to be working against those certainties.

The Saints jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead thanks in part to a Hasselbeck interception. But instead of folding like a pup tent, the Seahawks refused to go away.

Hasselbeck’s first touchdown pass made the score 10-7 and following another Saints’ touchdown the home team began to play with the old swagger.

Seattle scored 17 straight points, including a 45-yard touchdown strike from Hasselbeck to veteran receiver Brandon Stokley, to take a 24-17 lead.

A field goal by the Saints late in the second quarter made the score 24-20 at intermission, but the Seahawks quickly regained the momentum as the second half started.

A 38-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to Mike Williams made the score 31-20 and the Seahawks stretched the lead to two touchdowns with a field goal late in the quarter.

Even with Seattle holding a two touchdown lead late in the third quarter it was still difficult to believe that a team with only seven regular season wins could knock the defending champions out of the playoffs.

New Orleans scored 10 points early in the fourth quarter to make the score 34-30 and it seemed inevitable that the Saints would restore order and pull out the victory.

Seattle had the ball with less than four minutes remaining and most were simply waiting for them to punt the ball so Drew Brees could lead the Saints on the game-winning drive.

Marshawn Lynch sealed the Seattle victory with an amazing 67-yard touchdown run.

But running back Marshawn Lynch had other ideas. In a run that will surely become a staple of playoff highlight reels for years to come, Lynch broke the hold of seven would-be tacklers to rumble 67-yards for the decisive touchdown.

Brees did lead New Orleans on one final touchdown drive, but the necessary on-side kick turned out to be a flop and the Seahawks held on for one of the more surprising playoff victories in memory.

In recent years the NFC playoffs has often produced surprising results and unlikely Super Bowl representatives. Both the New York Giants in 2007 and the Arizona Cardinals the following year stumbled into the playoffs and seemed destined for an early playoff exits before getting hot and reaching the championship.

While it is highly unlikely that the Seahawks will be able to ride their victory over the Saints to two more wins, it certainly isn’t impossible if Hasselbeck and Lynch play at the level they did against the Saints.

Hasselbeck played perhaps his best game in more than four years as he completed 22 of 35 passes for 272 yards and four touchdowns. Lynch’s highlight film final run was just the best play of a solid day in which he rushed for 131 yards on 19 carries.

Regardless of whether they can parlay their victory over New Orleans into additional victories, the Seahawks certainly proved against New Orleans that in the world of sports anything can happen and that it doesn’t really matter how you get into the playoffs. Instead, what is really important is how you respond once you get there.

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