GAME: New Orleans Saints (9-2, 1st, NFC South) at Seattle Seahawks (10-1, 1st, NFC West). TYPE. Regular season. WEEK: 12. WHEN: Monday, 5:40 p.m., CenturyLink Field. MEETING: 13th (series tied 6-6). STREAKS: Seahawks W 6, Saints W 2. HEAD COACHES: Sean Payton, New Orleans; Pete Carroll, Seattle. LINE: Seahawks by 6. TV: ESPN. RADIO: ESPN 710 AM, KIRO 97.3 FM.
Rewind the calendar to Jan. 8, 2011, the day the 11-5 New Orleans Saints lined up for their NFC wild card game against Seattle already insulted that, as defending Super Bowl champions, they had to hit the road to face a 7-9 Seahawks team that had become the first club in NFL history to wins its division with a losing record.
The Saints immediately asserted themselves, constructing leads of 10-0 and 17-7 behind quarterback Drew Brees, only to have matters go south. With Matt Hasselbeck orchestrating matters, the Seahawks outscored the Saints 24-3 during the second and third quarters and turned back a late New Orleans rally when Marshawn Lynch delivered his “Beast Quake” touchdown run of 67 yards to seal a 41-36 victory.
In case the memory is fuzzy, Lymch took a second-down carry with less than four minutes remaining, and the highlights began. He broke six tackles on his long run as eight Saints got hands on Lynch, who also tossed in a massive stiff-arm that sent cornerback Tracy Porter sprawling to the turf to complete the longest scoring run of Lynch’s career.
“I mean, it was ridiculous,” Brees said this week when asked to revisit the play. “It was one of the best runs that I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I had to be on the other sideline for that.”
As he was then, Brees is the principal obstacle the 10-1 Seahawks must overcome Monday Night when they, as the current No. 1 seed in the NFC, tangle with the 9-2 Saints, the No. 2 seed, in one of the most anticipated NFL games in CenturyLink history.
It would be difficult to find two teams more evenly matched statistically. The Seahawks average 27.8 points, the Saints 27.7. Seattle yields 16.3, New Orleans 17.8. The Seahawks are a six-point pick largely because they are playing at CenturyLink, where they are amid of a franchise-record 13-game winning streak.
The showdown will give one team the edge for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It figures to be a strength-on-strength matchup of the Saints passing attack vs. the Seahawks secondary. Seattle ranks No. 2 in the league in pass defense, New Orleans No. 2 in passing offense.
The matchup, which pits Brees, receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore, TE Jimmy Graham and the versatile Darren Sproles against Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, took a hit this past week with news that CB Brandon Browner, already injured, was in violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, and is appealing a one-year suspension. His backup, Walter Thurmond, will sit out the next four games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
That means reserves Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane will sit in Brees’ crosshairs. The Seahawks might be forced to move Sherman around instead of keeping him on his usual side of the field in order to deter the resourceful Brees from dictating matchups.
“He knows all of the tricks in terms of where to throw, how to look off a guy, and controlling people with his eyes,” said Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. “It’s going to take our best program against them, but also affecting him as well with a four-man rush. It’s not just one guy that’s going to do it, it’s the way we all handle it.”
Brees has 28 touchdowns against eight interceptions and, as a measure of the kind of year he’s having, has a slightly higher passer rating, 107.3, than Russell Wilson, 105.1.
“They can strike you dead on offense,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “They have also been playing very, very good defense, particularly against the throwing game, causing problems, and their special teams are stout and tough and physical.”
One of Seattle’s toughest challenges will be derailing the success Brees has had with Graham, who has 65 catches for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns. Think a vintage Tony Gonzalez with speed.
“He’s a tremendous talent,” said Carroll. “He’s a ball-control catcher and he’s a down-the-field threat. They use him in numerous ways. They move him all around, inside and outside. He plays as a wide receiver and Brees knows he can throw the ball at him, with coverage all over him, and he can still make plays. So we have to cover him in multiple ways. It will take everything we have to slow down a guy like this.”
The Seahawks will also have to figure out a way to slow down the New Orleans pass rush. The Saints have 37 sacks, tied for the league lead (Seattle has 33), Cameron Jordan leading the way with 9.5.
The Seahawks view each game as a “championship opportunity” unto itself. But safety Earl Thomas admitted this week that facing the Saints represents a special opportunity.
“I’ve been preparing for this, and the team has been preparing for this, all year,” he said. “If you’re a ball player and a great competitor, you always want to show your skills in front of everybody in the whole world. I definitely want to be the best, and people are going to watch it.”
SERIES: Dates to Nov. 21, 1976, when the Saints 51-27 in the Kingdome. QB Bobby Douglass threw two touchdown passes and ran for two scores to lead the Saints. Sherman Smith ran for two scores for the Seahawks. The Seahawks and Saints last met in a 2010 NFC wild card game at CenturyLink Field.
Seahawks: Scored 306 points (27.8 per game), ranking 4th; allowed 179 points (16.3 per game), 3rd; differential of +127 points ranks 2nd. Saints: Scored 305 points (27.7), ranked 3rd; allowed 196 (17.8), 5th; differential of +109 points ranks 3rd.
SEAHAWKS HEAD COACH: Pete Carroll (68-55 career, 35-24 Seattle) is in his fourth season. In 2010, he directed Seattle to the NFC West title, the Seahawks becoming the first team in NFL history to win a division with a losing (7-9) record. Prior to joining the Seahawks, Carroll served as head coach at Southern California, where his Trojans won seven Pac-10 titles.
SEAHAWKS QUARTERBACKS: Russell Wilson at Carolina, 25 of 33, 320 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 115.7 passer rating; vs. San Francisco, 8 of 19, 142 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 63.9 passer rating; vs. Jacksonville, 14 of 21, 202 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 117.5 passer rating; at Houston, 12 of 23, 123 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 48.7 passer rating; at Indianapolis, 15 of 31, 210 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT78.7 passer rating; season, 91.2; vs. Tennessee, 23 of 31, 257 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 98.5 passer rating; at Arizona, 18 of 28, 235 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 122.1 passer rating; at St. Louis, 10 of 18, 139 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 117.6 passer rating; vs. Tampa Bay, 19 of 26, 217 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 91.3 passer rating; at Atlanta, 19 of 26 for 287 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 134.6 passer rating; vs. Minnesota, 13 of 18, 230 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 151.4 passer rating. Tarvaris Jackson vs. Jacksonville, 7 of 8, 129 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 158.3 passer rating; at Indianapolis, no statistics; vs. Minnesota, 1 of 3, 6 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 42.4 passer rating.
SEAHAWKS STATS / NOTES
- REGULAR SEASON SUMMARY: Record: 10-1-0. Home: 5-0. Road: 5-1. Vs. NFC: 7-0. Vs. AFC: 3-1. Vs. NFC East: 0-0. Vs. NFC North: 1-0. Vs. NFC South: 3-0. Vs. NFC West: 3-0. Points For: 306 (27.8). Points Against: 179 (16.3).
- NFL RANKS: Scoring Offense — 27.8 (2nd); Total Offense — 358.5 (12th); Rushing Offense — 147.9 (3rd); Passing Offense — 210.5 (24th); Scoring Defense — 16.3 (T2); Total Defense — 293.3 (2nd); Rushing Defense — 112.9 (16th); Passing Defense — 180.4 (2nd).
- Seahawks are making their second appearance on Monday Night Football this season (St. Louis, Oct. 28). Seattle is 40-26 in prime time and a league-leading 19-8 on Monday night.
- Seahawks have won 17 of last 19.
- Seahawks are 26-9 record since the final half of the 2011 season. In those nine losses the average margin of victory for opponents has been 4.6 points.
- Seahawks are 64-29 at home since 2002. Only Green Bay (65-28-1) has a better home record during that span.
- Seahawks have 59 pass plays of 16 or more yards this season and 41 running plays of 12 or more. With 100 explosive plays, the Seahawks rank No. 2 in the NFL behind Detroit’s 102.
- Seahawks are +11 in point differential (26 takeaways, 15 giveaways), the top mark in the NFC.
- Russell Wilson has the highest passer rating (111.2) in the NFL since Week 9 of the 2012 season. Peyton Manning is second at 109.8.
- Over his past 19 starts, Wilson is 17-2. He has exceeded a 100.00 passer rating 13 times.
- Wilson has nine fourth-quarter comebacks, the most recent against Tampa Bay Nov. 3.
- Wilson has 21 wins in his first two seasons, one less than the record by Ben Roethlisberger.
- Only three second-year quarterbacks since 1970 have a passer rating above 100.0: Kurt Warner (1999), 109.2; Dan Marino (1984), 108.9; and Wilson (105.1).
- Marshawn Lynch leads the NFL with 19 100-yard game games since 2011 and has rushed for 100 or more in 19 of his last 36. The 19 100-yard games rank first in the NFL over that span; Arian Foster, Houston, 16.
- Since Week 9 of 2012, Lynch has rushed for 3,456 yards and 29 touchdowns, both totals leading the NFL (Adrian Peterson 3,269 yards, 25 TDs).
- Seattle has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 68.7 passer rating, lowest in the NFC and second lowest in the NFL.
- Richard Sherman has picked off 16 passes since 2011, most in the NFL. His four picks this year are tied for second in the NFC. Sherman has also defensed 52 passes since 2011, most in the NFL.
SEAHAWKS 2013 OFFENSIVE LEADERS
SEAHAWKS 2013 DEFENSIVE LEADERS
|Tackles||Thomas 75, Wright 71, Wagner 69|
|Sacks||Bennett 6.5, Avril 6.5, 2 with 3.5|
|Quarterback Hits||Bennett 16, Clemons 10, Avril 9|
|Interceptions||Thomas 4, Sherman 4, two with 2|
|Passes Defensed||Sherman 11, Browner 10, Thomas 7|
|Forced Fumbles||Avril 3, Thomas 2|
|Fumbles Recovered||Chancellor, Mebane, McDaniel, Wright 1|
SAINTS NOTES: The Saints defeated Atlanta (23-17), Tampa Bay (16-14), Arizona (31-7), Miami (38-17), Chicago (26-18), Buffalo (35-17), Dallas (49-17) and San Francisco (23-20), and lost to New England (30-27) and the New York Jets (26-20) . . . The Saints rank 3rd in scoring offense (27.7), 23rd in rushing offense (97.7), second in pass offense (317.3), fifth in total defense (309.9), 25th in rushing defense (111.9), third in pass defense (198.0)d and fifth in scoring defense (17.8) . . . Pierre Thomas leads New Orleans with 413 rushing yards and one touchdown while Mark Ingram has 220 yards and a touchdown . . . TE Jimmy Graham is the team’s leading receiver with 60 catches for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns . . . LB David Hawthorne, who began his career with Seattle in 2008 and played with the Seahawks through 2011, has 60 tackles for the Saints, including 3.0 sacks . . . Sean Payton is in his seventh season as head coach of the Saints after missing 2012 in the “Bountygate” scandal. Payton is 106-70.
SAINTS QUARTERBACKS: Drew Brees completed an NFL-best 300 of 439 passes for 3,647 yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a passer rating of 107.3. Brees has eight 300-yard games, five TDs in a game once, vs. Buffalo Oct. 27, and four TDs in a game twice, vs. Miami Sept. 30 and Dallas Nov. 10.
2013-14 KEY DATES: Jan. 4-5, 2014 — Wild-card playoff games; Jan. 11-12 — Divisional playoff games; Jan. 19, 2014 — AFC and NFC Championship games; Jan. 26, 2014 — AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, Honolulu; Feb. 2, 2014 — Super Bowl XLVIII, MetLife Stadium, New York; Feb. 18-25, 2012 — Scouting combine, Indianapolis; March 11, 2014 — Free agency begins; May 8-10, 2014 — NFL draft.
NFC West Standings
|Seattle||10-1-0||3-0-0||Sun, at S. Francisco|
|S. Francisco||8-4-0||3-1-0||Sun, vs. Seattle|
|Cardinals||7-5-0||0-3-0||Sun, vs. St. Louis|
|St. Louis||5-7-0||1-3-0||Sun, at Arizona|
2013 Seahawks Preseason Schedule
|8/8/13||at San Diego||7 p.m.||NFLN||W||31-10||1-0|
|8/17/13||vs. Denver||7 p.m.||NFLN||W||40-10||2-0|
|8/23/13||at Green Bay||5 p.m.||CBS||W||17-10||3-0|
|8/29/13||vs. Oakland||7 p.m.||Fox||W||22-6||4-0|
2013 Seahawks Regular-Season Schedule
|9/8/13||at Carolina||10 a.m.||FOX||W||12-7||1-0|
|9/15/13||vs. SF||5:30 p.m.||NBC||W||29-3||2-0|
|9/22/13||vs. JAX||1:25 p.m.||CBS||W||45-17||3-0|
|9/29/13||at Texans||10 a.m.||FOX||W||23-20||4-0|
|10/6/13||at Indy||10 a.m.||FOX||L||34-28||4-1|
|10/13/13||vs. Tenn||1:05 p.m.||CBS||W||20-13||5-1|
|10/17/13||at Arizona||5:25 p.m.||NFLN||W||34-22||6-1|
|10/28/12||at StL||5:40 p.m.||ESPN||W||14-9||7-1|
|11/3/13||vs. Tampa||1:05 p.m.||FOX||W||27-24||8-1|
|11/10/13||at Atlanta||10 a.m.||FOX||W||33-10||9-1|
|11/17/13||vs. Minn||1:25 p.m.||FOX||W||41-20||10-1|
|12/2/13||VS. NO||5:40 p.m.||ESPN||—||——||—|
|12/8/12||at SF||1:25 p.m.||FOX||—||——||—|
|12/15/13||at NYG||10 a.m.||FOX||—||——||—|
|12/22/13||vs. Ariz||1:05 p.m.||FOX||—||——||—|
|12/29/13||vs. STL||1:25 p.m.||FOX||—||——||—|