Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter was definitely one of the best runs of the season -- and may go down as one of the best runs in NFL playoff history, given the circumstances. The Saints seemed to have all the momentum. Eight Saints defenders got their hands on Lynch, but none could bring him down. The run reminded oldtimeters of LSU's Billy Cannon's legendary 89-yard punt return for a touchdown against Ole miss in 1959.
Lynch's touchdown made it 41-30 with just three and a half minutes to play. But anyone who had been watching the previous 56 and a half minutes knew that this game wasn't over. Drew Brees of course, would drive the Saints right down the field for a touchdown that made it 41-36 after the two-point conversion failed.
Unfortunately for the Saints, their onside kick went right into the hands of Seattle tight end John Carlson, who had previously scored two touchdowns, and the 'Hawks just had to run out the clock.
Brees finished 39-of-60 for 404 yards and two touchdowns, but he and the Saints offense struggled for a stretch in the second and third quarters which was enough for Seattle to control the game.
The Saints had to settle for field goals on three trips inside the eight-yard line. A drop by Reggie Bush at the goal line and a slip by tight end David Thomas cost the team points. A drop by Devery Henderson set up Lynch's TD run.
The Saints defense let them down the most. Corners Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer had good games, but Harper and Sharper were abused all day. Hasselbeck out-witted the two safeties.
"He hit me 'oh, crap!' screen, you know where the guy's on the ground and everything's going the other way and all of a sudden he gets up off the ground and goes the other way," said Harper.
The Saints didn't lose because Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory were out with injuries, but the run game struggled all game. Julius Jones had an early touchdown run, but coughed up a costly fumble in Seattle territory.
Reggie Bush, whom the Saints were counting on to have a big game, rushed for just 19 yards on five carries before leaving the game with a leg injury. Jones suffered a nick and didn't play much in the second half. Fullback Heath Evans filled in at running back because he was just about all that was left.
"Seattle played a real good game," was somber Saints coach Sean Payton's take on the game. "It's disappointing to be on the other side of it. In the end we weren't good enough in a number of areas."
The Seahawks don't care who they play next. "I couldn't care less," said 'Hawks coach Pete Carroll. "I don't even know the scenarios. And i know you think that's crazy, but I don't know what's going on. And it doesn't matter. I just know that we show up on Monday and we'll figure out where we're going."
The Saints were in the red zone seven times. Brees said the failure to get touchdowns on three of those trips could have been the difference in the outcome.
"We made it inside the red zone seven times," said Brees. "We came with four touchdowns and three field goals. The unfortunate thing for us the three times we got stopped it was inside the five-yard line. So just imagine if we could have gotten one more touchdown, or two out of those three stops. Maybe this is a different game, a different outcome."
The Saints front-office didn't improve their roster after winning the Lombardi Trophy.
This offseason the Saints need to trade for or sign a free agent speedy pass rusher, a better kick returner and special team coverage players, running backs who can play an entire season and a deep receiving threat.
Instead of a chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions, the Saints are left thinking about preventing what happened in Seattle.
Saints coach Sean Payton (On depleted running backs position) "The runners handled it pretty well. It wasn't until the second half we got hampered with Reggie going down, and Julius going down. It's been one of those seasons where at that position we had a number of injuries and yet that really wasn't the difference today."
(On the kicking game) "We didn't do a good job in the kicking game over-all. Our return game really struggled. We gave up too many plays defensively. Offensively, after the first three or four series, we kind of got in a way where we weren't matching Seattle's offense, and we weren't capturing the momentum."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees (On the loss) "It's no fun to lose in the first round because we had high expectations and high aspirations for this team as we looked at the playoff picture, and just felt like 'Hey, we're as good as anybody and we've got just as good a shot as anybody. And how many teams can say that they've gone back and repeated as Super Bowl champions?' "
(On the offense) "I felt like as I just speak for the offense today we played well, but just not well enough. We make some plays, but we just didn't make enough of them."
Saints safety Darren Sharper (On Matt Hassellbeck) "We expected to get his best."
(On the loss) "We had a team we thought could repeat."
(On safeties' coverage) "Our eyes were very bad in coverage. You can put it as blown coverage or you can just put it as just not looking at the right things."
Saints linebacker Scott Shanle (On Lynch's touchdown run) "If we had anything we could do different I know, with me, instead of tackling high and trying to get the ball out, I would have just wrapped him up and made sure of the tackle. But it is always easy to look back, because you know if you can get that ball out you make a great play but I would make sure to make the tackle rather that strip the ball.
"It one of those things where you kind of live by it or you die by it. We made a lot of great plays this year by going after the ball, and when they come out those are huge plays. But when they don't, you have the potential for missed tackles"
(On losing to Seattle) "If we're in this position down the road, we have to remember this experience so it doesn't happen again."
Seahawks linebacker Jordan Babineaux (On beating the Saints) "We are a different team. The attention to detail and focus the past two weeks have been the best it's been all year. You can see that in our performance. We are a different team in all phases."
Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy (On Drew Brees' play) "Drew is the reason why they were the defending champions. We expected that. That's why we didn't falter when they got up, and when they were charging back we didn't falter. As long as you have No. 9 for the Saints, they always have a chance to win. They always have the chance to come back and we understood that."
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (On his rushing effort) "I was pretty determined. It's something to build off going into next week. I feel it was a pretty good feeling for all of us. The offensive line did a great job of getting me to the secondary and I just took over from there."
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hassellbeck (On his TD passes) "We got on a roll there. We got a rhythm going -- with pass protection, and I was using my cadence pretty good, and quick counts, and sort of quick counts, normal counts, hard counts, double counts.
"Using those thing is our toolbox. We had a rhythm going; we had them on their toes just a little bit. There were stretches in that game where we connected."
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