Seahawks stop Saints, reach NFC title game
SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks hosted the Carolina Panthers the last time an NFC Championship game was played in this part of the country, and one of their biggest rivals is the San Francisco 49ers.
One of those teams will come to CenturyLink Field for next Sunday's NFC Championship game, thanks to a 23-15 win over the New Orleans Saints on Saturday in a divisional playoff game.
"Whoever is coming in here, just be ready to play," Seahawks defensive lineman Red Bryant said, "because we damn sure will be."
The Seahawks survived an occasional driving rainstorm, a late onside kick and a ragged second half to hold off the Saints and earn the right to host their second NFC Championship game in eight years.
Running back Marshawn Lynch rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Russell Wilson completed 9 of 18 passes for 103 yards.
Wilson's most important completion came on a third-and-3 from the Seattle 45-yard line with 2:48 remaining, extending a drive that resulted in Lynch's clinching touchdown.
The Saints nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback in the final minutes, with wide receiver Marques Colston catching a touchdown pass with 26 seconds remaining and then recovering an onside kick.
But on what turned out to be the game's final play, Colston caught a pass by quarterback Drew Brees at the Seattle 35, then threw a forward pass that he meant to lateral backward to a teammate with two seconds left -- resulting in a penalty and 10-second clock runoff that ended the game.
Afterward, Colston had nothing to say to reporters.
Brees said he was heartbroken by the loss.
"The closer you get (to the Super Bowl), the more it hurts, the more it stings," Brees said after completing 24 of 43 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown. "It's my 13th year, and you don't know how many more opportunities you might have."
New Orleans had 409 yards of offense -- markedly more than the 277 put up by Seattle -- but the Saints didn't help themselves with two missed field goal attempts and a failed fourth-down conversion attempt in Seattle territory.
"At the end of the day, some of the opportunities we had we didn't take advantage of," Saints center Brian de la Puente said.
Seattle jumped out to a 16-0 halftime lead despite a lackluster offense. The Saints finally made a game of it with a nine-play, 74-yard scoring drive that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Khiry Robinson early in the fourth quarter. A two-point conversion run by running back Mark Ingram cut the Seattle lead to 16-8 with 13:11 remaining.
Things really looked interesting when an underthrown Brees deep pass bounced off two Seattle defenders to wide receiver Robert Meachem for a 52-yard reception to the Seattle 25 with 4:25 remaining.
But the Seahawks held on, thanks in part to kicker Shayne Graham's second missed field goal attempt of the day, from 48 yards with 3:51 remaining.
Seattle responded with a 62-yard drive that was highlighted by Wilson's 24-yard pass to tight end Doug Baldwin on third-and-3. One play later, Lynch broke free for a 31-yard touchdown run to put the Seahawks ahead 23-8 with 2:40 remaining.
Brees hit Colston on a 9-yard touchdown pass with 26 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to 23-15, and Colston recovered an onside kick at the Saints' 41, but New Orleans couldn't finish off the comeback.
Brees did most of his damage in the fourth quarter, when Brees had 167 yards passing and his only touchdown.
The Seahawks jumped out to a 6-0 lead on two Steven Hauschka field goals, then took advantage of a fumble by Ingram to set up the game's first touchdown. After Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett forced and recovered the Ingram fumble, Lynch rambled in from 15 yards for a 13-0 lead with 14:17 remaining in the first half.
The Seahawks added a 26-yard field goal, Hauschka's third, with 1:18 remaining in the second quarter to go into halftime with a 16-0 lead.
The Saints had just 34 passing yards in the first 30 minutes.
Through the first six quarters of their two meetings this season, the Seahawks outscored New Orleans 50-7.
The Saints outscored Seattle 15-7 after halftime, with more than half (205) of their total yardage (409) coming in the fourth quarter alone.
But that wasn't enough to keep the NFC's top seed from hosting another game next week.
"It feels awesome," Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson said, "but this doesn't mean anything if we don't win next week."
NOTES: A few hours before Saturday's game, Saints TE Jimmy Graham had to be separated from a few Seahawks players as they worked out on the field wearing sweatsuits. ... Saints RB Pierre Thomas was among the inactives, missing his second consecutive playoff game because of a chest injury. ... Seahawks WR Percy Harvin (hip) played for only the second time this season but had to be helped off the field twice in the first half. He took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Saints S Rafael Bush on Seattle's opening drive and underwent concussion tests before returning to action in the second quarter. Harvin took another big hit from Saints S Malcolm Jenkins just before halftime and went into the locker room to undergo concussion tests again. He did not return for the second half. ... G James Carpenter, who started 10 games during the regular season, was one of Seattle's seven inactives. Converted OT Michael Bowie started at guard for the second time in three games.