SEATTLE - He's been a part of five NFC West championship teams and a Super Bowl run, but Sean Locklear said the Seattle Seahawks' head-shaking win over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints was sweeter than all of those.
“Nobody expected us to beat the defending champs – even with us at home,” Locklear said. “But it was amazing. I was just standing there taking it all in.”
Urged on by the frenzied din of 66,336 towel-waving fans at Qwest Field, the Seahawks continued to make history on Saturday by beating the Saints in a 41-36 shootout in an NFC wild-card playoff game.
The Seahawks – who at 8-9 still do not have a winning record – will again play a familiar opponent in the next round.
If Green Bay defeats Philadelphia today, the Seahawks will travel to Chicago to face the Bears on Jan. 16 at Soldier Field, where they won earlier this season, 23-20.
If the Eagles win, the Seahawks are headed to Atlanta for a Saturday game against the Falcons, whom they lost to at home, 34-18, three weeks ago.
Regardless, the Seahawks are pleased to be headed back to practice Monday instead of cleaning out their lockers.
“It doesn’t matter,” said veteran receiver Brandon Stokley. “We’re still playing, that’s all that matters right now. I know we’re going to play a really good team, and we’re going to have to play better than we did last week.”
This one looked like a typical New Orleans victory early. The Seahawks fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter, as the Saints got on the scoreboard first with a Garrett Hartley 26-yard field goal on the opening drive.
Matt Hasselbeck was intercepted by New Orleans quarterback Jabari Greer on third-and-1 from Seattle’s 46, which led to a 1-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Heath Evans, and New Orleans appeared to be off to the races.
But the Seahawks didn’t panic.
“This is what we expect,” said safety Lawyer Milloy said. “That’s the thing that has been different over the last couple weeks. And I don’t know what happened. We just know that we’re not done.”
Added coach Pete Carroll: “For whatever reason, our football team since two weeks ago has believed we were going to win the game that we’re headed into, and they believed we were going to win today.”
Hasselbeck put the turnover behind him and led Seattle on its first scoring drive of the game, capping a six-play, 57-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Carlson.
The Saints responded with another score, this one a 5-yard touchdown run by former Seahawk Julius Jones to put his team up 17-7 with 13:42 left in the half.
But the Seahawks would score 17 straight points in the second quarter to take the lead for good.
Hasselbeck led the way, completing 22 of 35 passes for 272 yards and four touchdowns. He had a 113 passer rating and became the winningest quarterback in franchise history with a combined 74 wins in regular-season and playoff games, one win better than Dave Krieg.
“Matt Hasselbeck was ridiculously good today,” Carroll said. “I’m so proud of him coming back like that, and playing just incredible football.”
The Seahawks led by as many as two touchdowns in the second half, but the high-powered Saints offense reeled them in, cutting Seattle’s lead to 34-30 on another Hartley field goal with 9:16 left in the game.
That’s when Marshawn Lynch took over.
After the Seahawks forced New Orleans to punt, Lynch bulled his way 67 yards on a highlight reel run, shucking off a half-dozen New Orleans defenders for a touchdown that gave Seattle a 41-30 lead with 3:22 to play, essentially clinching the win.
“It was one of the greatest runs I ever saw,” Carroll said. “At the time when you needed it most, it was just an incredible play. I’m sure that everybody will remember that run forever.”
The Saints did get one last touchdown, but Seattle salted the game away and celebrated at midfield, with stunned New Orleans players wandering off the field at the end of the game.
Now the Seahawks will see if they can keep this topsy-turvy season going one more week.
“We’re in the playoffs, so anything can happen,” Locklear said. “We’re 1-0, let’s keep it going.”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org