Seahawks win, clinch first playoff spot
By TIM BOOTH
SEATTLE -- A couple thousand Seahawks fans were crowded in front of the television stage when Russell Wilson walked out of the locker room still in full uniform.
Instantly, the chant started.
Hard to argue against Wilson after a performance like Monday night.
Wilson threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns, and the Seahawks became the first team to clinch a spot in the NFC playoffs with a 34-7 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
More important than just wrapping up a spot in the postseason, the Seahawks (11-1) moved two games ahead on the rest of the NFC in the race for home-field advantage and hold the tiebreakers over New Orleans (9-3) and Carolina (9-3), the two closest pursuers.
The rest of the top teams better get ready to visit the Pacific Northwest in January. After this rout, the road through the NFC playoffs is almost certain to go through Seattle.
"For us to come out in that fashion and to win that game the way that we did was awesome," Wilson said.
Wilson was outstanding, picking apart the Saints' defense. He threw touchdown passes of 2 yards to Zach Miller and 4 yards to Doug Baldwin in the first half as Seattle built a 27-7 lead. Wilson added a pinball 8-yard TD pass to Derrick Coleman in the third quarter.
Wilson completed 22 of 30 passes and finished with a quarterback rating of 139.6. He has 22 regular-season wins in his first two seasons, tied for the most ever by a second-year QB and is 14-0 at home.
Michael Bennett had a 22-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first quarter to give Seattle a 10-0 lead and the Saints never threatened. It was a dominating performance by the Seahawks, making up for a lackluster effort the last time they were given a national television spotlight and were taken to the final yard and final play by St. Louis.
Not this time. The most anticipated game in the NFC this season was a laugher.
Drew Brees and the Saints were stymied the entire night as he lost for the first time on Monday night after nine straight wins, and continued the belief New Orleans can't win outdoors late in the season. New Orleans didn't crack 100 yards of total offense into midway through the third quarter. Jimmy Graham was nearly invisible outside of his franchise-record 12th TD catch of the season in the second quarter that pulled the Saints to 17-7.
Brees finished 23 of 38 for 147 yards. Graham had three catches for 42 yards. Darren Sproles led New Orleans with seven catches, many of those check downs. The seven points matched the fewest scored by the Saints since Sean Payton became coach in 2006 and the 188 total yards were the fewest in his coaching tenure.
"Lot of things to look at," Payton said. "Lot of things we didn't do well."
It was K.J. Wright's job to shadow Graham and he hounded the Saints' star all night.
"The coaches told me 'We're going to let you hold (Graham). Just do your job, win on your leverage, trust your guys around you and just play your best game.' That's what I tried to do," Wright said.
The Saints went three-and-out on their first possession and that was just the start of their struggles. On their next possession, Brees was hit from behind by Cliff Avril and fumbled into the arms of Bennett, who returned it for the touchdown.
Brees was unable to take advantage of Seattle's depleted secondary. The Seahawks were without Brandon Browner (injury) and Walter Thurmond (suspension) but Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane played well in their places.
"We took one in the chin today," Brees said. "We got out played today. They played great. They made a lot of plays and we didn't."
Seattle used the bye week to add wrinkles to its offense. Wilson was a threat not only passing but running with the zone read again becoming an addition to the playbook. Wilson carried five times in the first half, three of those designed keepers.
But it was his passing that stole the show. Wilson was 14 of 19 in the first half for 226 yards and a rating of 148.1. He found Miller open for a 60-yard catch-and-run early in the second quarter, then capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Miller and a 17-0 lead. Wilson later hit Doug Baldwin for 52 yards. Seattle had seven pass completions of 12 or more yards in the first half. The Seahawks finished with 315 first-half yards, the most allowed by the Saints in a first half since 2005 against Minnesota.
Baldwin said Seattle saw a specific blitz package from the Saints on film and the Seahawks knew they'd have chances to go downfield.
"We wanted to be great against the blitz," Wilson said. " ... We knew they were going to bring some pressure and we like the sense of pressure because there is a lot of green grass behind it."
Notes: Wilson averaged 10.3 yards per pass attempt, while Brees was at 3.9. ... New Orleans was 25th in the NFL in run defense, but held Marsahwn Lynch to 45 yards rushing on 16 carries.