Stunner in Seattle: Against All Odds, Seahawks Dethrone Defending Champion Saints

Brees' 404 yards and 2 TD's weren't enough, as this day belonged to Hasselbeck and Seattle

 Glass slippers are usually reserved for March, particularly in college basketball during a frenzy, chaotic period known only as March Madness.  But on Saturday afternoon, Cinderella’s glass slipper made an appearance a couple months earlier at Qwest Field. 

The glass slipper fits the Seattle Seahawks just fine.

After being written off, brushed aside and labled the worst team in playoff history, the 7-9 Seahawks got their eighth and perhaps biggest win in franchise history by knocking out the defending world champion New Orleans Saints, 41-36. 

I’m not completely certain on this, but perhaps the party going on in the Pacific Northwest this evening has a striking resemblance of Mardi Gras down in the heart of the French Quarter.  Either way, Seattle was the last team standing, celebrating at midfield and the Saints were the ones sulking away after a one and done.

Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck made sure the Saints’ title defense would last just four quarters.  He looked more like a guy entering the prime of his career rather than nearing the end of the line with 272 yards and four touchdowns.  The evidence speaks for itself and there was clearly a reason why Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll tabbed Hasselbeck as the starter and not Charlie Whitehurst.  Hasselbeck is now 5-0 in his last five home playoffs games.  Despite his trouble with injuries and staying healthy and questions about where and how he fits into the team’s rebuilding project, Hasselbeck showed no ill effects of slowing down or stepping aside.

So many factors had to play out perfectly for Seattle to pull off the upset.  And, well, for one afternoon all the stars, were aligned.  The moon was in perfect position.  The sun was in harmony. 

Hasselbeck did what no one could do a year ago and very few have managed to do since Drew Brees’ arrival in the Big Easy: outplay him.  Take nothing away from Brees in the loss.  He shoulders no blame, throwing for over 400 yards and two touchdowns.  No, Brees wasn’t bad nor was he responsible.  Hasselbeck was simply better.  And the Saints’ defense looked as though they spent the night before on Borboun St.

Gregg Williams’ defense, which was so opportunistic and such a catalyst a year ago in the Saints’ run to glory, was downright terrible.  They allowed 41 points to the Seahawks, who scored 41 points in the entire month of October.  There was a familiar face, former Buffalo Bill running back Marshawn Lynch, becoming the first 100-yard rusher for Seattle all season long.  With 3:22 left and the Saints’ clinging to hope, Lynch drove the final nail in the coffin with a powerful and impressive 67-yard touchdown run in which Lynch ran past, through and over (Tracy Porter in particular) the defense.  On the day, the Saints allowed 149 total rushing yards, 131 of them from Lynch.

The Saints found themselves locked in the eye of the perfect storm.  A heavy, double-digit favorite fresh off a year in which themselves made an improbable, historic run than ended with the Lombardi Trophy.  A year later, the run never materialized and we’ll have a new Super Bowl champion.   

Belief is a funny element to sports.  We see upsets all the time, given there is a different level of severity with each one.  But the funny thing is, despite being told they didn’t belong and couldn’t compete, the Seahawks didn’t listen and paid no attention to betting lines or to the prognosticators.  I myself thought there was a good chance the fourth quarter wouldn’t mean much in this one.

But Seattle played the way all teams wish they could: loose, free, with nothing to lose and never wavering belief and disallowing doubt.  Even down 10-0 and 17-7 early in the game, the thought never crept in the minds of the Seahawks that they might be on the verge of being unable to repair the floodgates, which looked as though they were about to snap at a moment’s notice. 

When you hear about teams winning and losing games and championships in the trenches, they’re not pulling your leg.  Seattle’s offensive line protected Hasselbeck picture perfectly, giving up just one sack while keeping Hasselbeck from counting clouds in the Seattle sky.  Hasselbeck’s fellow oldie but still goodie, Brandon Stokley, led the team with 73 receiving yards and a touchdown.  There was wide out Mike Williams, who’s NFL career has been a bust in both Detroit and in Oakland for a short time.  He spent two years out of football, until his former USC coach, Carroll, brought him in and gave him perhaps what was his final chance to show he belongs in the NFL.  Now, all he does is turn in big performances in the biggest of games.  Last week, with the division on the line he hauled in a big score.  Today, it was more of the same from Williams.

With what felt like a blink of an eye, the Saints ran out of that magic and the mystique that propelled them all the way to Miami and the Super Bowl last season.  They won’t be lifting the Lombardi Trophy for a second time.  They were without their two two rushers, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas.  They lost Reggie Bush and then Julius Jones during the game.  They were down to DeShawn Wynn at running back by game’s end, which made it very difficult for the Saints to be anything other than one dimensional and predictable.  There’s a reason why Brees attempted 60 passes.

The New Orleans offensive line had trouble all day with physical Seattle defensive ends, Raheem Brock and Chris Clemons.  And the defense was disastrous trying to stay off the field.  They looked a lot like the Saints’ teams from the previous two seasons rather than the defensive stalwart unit they’ve shaped the past two seasons.  Those teams in 2006, 2007 and 2008 were fun to watch and put points on the board at will.  But the defense wasn’t a priority and they couldn’t stop anybody.  Today, that was on display.

Williams’ defense looked lost, out of place and as though they didn’t belong on the field with the Seattle offense.  Darren Sharper looked old.  Roman Harper looked like he was brought in out of the parking lot a half hour before game time.  Jonathan Vilma, as he’s done all year and since his arrival in New Orleans, brought his A-game.  The rest of the unit, including Williams, didn’t.  How bad did they miss the prescence of Malcom Jenkins?

Give a lot of credit to Seattle.  The Saints helped them out as well.  Injuries played a factor, yes, but the Saints were outscored in the second and third quarters 27-10.  Lynch ran all over and the Seattle receivers ran willingly in the secondary against Williams’ defense.  It’ll be a long offseason to swallow the fact that the team’s strength a year ago became their downfall this season.

Seattle’s 7-9 record wasn’t very eye appealing.  They were cast aside like the evening trash and treated more like a speed bump than a legitimate opponent against New Orleans.  They allowed the third-most points in franchise history this season.  On Saturday, they made the entire NFL world take notice.  They’re nobody’s charity case or warm-up game.

Their record means nothing.  Everyone told them they couldn’t do it, pull off an unforgettable win for the playoff ages.  No one believed.  Good thing for Pete Carroll, Matt Hasselbeck and the rest of the Seahawks they believed in each other.

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