Almost never is a pro football game decided on the first play. Such was the immensity of the beatdown Monday night, however, that the New Orleans Saints were toe-tagged, embalmed and buried on the initial play from scrimmage. Seahawks players were only secondary players in the grid-ocide.
Condemned by a record crowd of 68,387 that set another Guinness world record for stadium noise, the Saints were shouted into a fetal, fatal position.
“The first play of the game was a run that went the (wrong) direction,” said an aggrieved Sean Payton, the Saints coach. “Obviously, not everyone got the redirect.”
So loud, so raw, so cold and so over. Seahawks DT Brandon Mebane burst through the Saints line to drop RB Pierre (Wrong-Way) Thomas for a four-yard loss. For the Saints, it was their last moment on the cliff. It is not clear if they have hit the canyon floor yet.
They did not get a first down until the last half-minute of the first quarter, when they were behind 17-0. They finished with 44 yards rushing. QB Drew Brees threw eight passes that went 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and completed none. They lost, 34-7.
“They were certainly well prepared,” said Brees. “The fact of the matter is we took one on the chin today.
“We are used to being on the other end of these types of games.”
That observation holds the jaw-slackening truth: The Saints (now 9-3) were the second-best team in the NFC, with a smart offense and rugged defense, yet spent the night as a Division II college team. Junior varsity. Freshman-only. On probation.
For a night, they were again the ‘Aints, the dreaded nickname from the franchise’s darkest years.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson put it this way: “We want to be the most explosive team in the NFL, offense and defense.” Consider Monday night the detonation. Pete Carroll had to agree.
“Well,” he said, “we had a blast.”
So many things were so remarkable about the evening that even the loquacious Carroll had a hard time getting his rhetoric around the achievement. But he finally landed on the key point:
“For the defense to hold that quarterback, that coach and that team to that kind of production . . . . that’s an incredible night for our guys.”
The 188 yards by the Saints was the lowest opponent total for Seattle since January 2002 against San Francisco. The 90 yards at halftime was the third time this season an opponent has been held to 90 or less (San Francisco, Jacksonville). And by the sixth scrimmage play, they fulfilled Wilson’s ambition to be explosive.
As Brees dropped back from his own 25-yard line on a third-and-five, DE Cliff Avril roared around right tackle Zach Strief and leaped to swat the quarterback’s arm. The ball flew in the air and fellow DE Michael Bennett snatched it and rumbled 22 yards for a fum-six and a 10-0 lead.
Any defensive score is almost always a game-turner. This game turned so hard on that play that, aside from a long drive in the second quarter to their only score, the Saints couldn’t muster any sort of sustained rally.
“Coming into this game we knew that is what their defense thrives on,” Brees said. “That sets you behind the 8-ball a little bit. We just couldn’t get much going after that.
“They don’t have any weak links. They are very good upfront. They are very good at the linebacker position. They are very good in the secondary. They put it all together and play very well together within their scheme.”
So evident were the Seahawks plans to deconstruct the Saints that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn were given game balls by the team. Quinn’s deeds were even more impressive in the wake of the injury/suspension absences of CBs Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, which some fans feared would leave the Seahawks vulnerable against Brees’ precision.
“We felt bad for them — it was really a compassionate response,” Carroll said of Browner and Thurmond. “As far as the football, it was not an issue at all. We know how to respond to that. That was exhibited again tonight. We handled it really well.”
The resourcefulness in both personnel and game-planning was never more apparent.
“We got to play the way we want to play,” Carroll said. “That’s important.”
The question — there are always questions, aren’t there? — is whether they can replicate the same passion and efficiency in six days at Candlestick Park against a 49ers team again playing well and seething for revenge after the 29-3 debacle Sept. 15. It’s still possible for San Francisco to help spoil Seattle’s pursuit of the NFC West title that makes for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
“We’re going after it with everything we’ve got,” Carroll said.
What they’ve got, witnessed by the sporting nation Monday night, is enough to change a game against a good team in the first two series, and change the lyrics in the opponents’ song: When the Saints No Marching In.