SEATTLE, WA (WAFB) - The defense played well, despite giving up two touchdowns, while quarterback Drew Brees and the offense struggled, as the Saints lost 23-15 to the Seahawks in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
The Saints (12-6) knew it wouldn't be easy, going into hostile territory for the second straight week and looking to keep the Who Dat nation's playoff run going. New Orleans shook off a sluggish start and made it a game at the end in Seattle, but simply ran out of time.
"We had some drives that were right on the outskirts of field goal range, opportunities to get points, and we weren't able to cash in," said Brees. "And obviously, in a game like this when every point, every opportunity, counts so much, you have to be able to take advantage of those."
The Saints recovered an onside kick after Brees found Marques Colston for a 9-yard touchdown with :26 left to make it 23-15 in favor of the Seahawks. However, the Saints could not pull out a miraculous comeback.
"We knew what we were coming into here. Felt like we had a great plan. Felt like we really executed that plan very well, all things considered. Just came up a little bit short," said Brees.
After the onside kick recovery, Brees first completed an 8-yard pass to tight end Jimmy Graham in the middle of the field and then spiked the ball. It was Graham's first and only catch of the game. Brees then completed a pass to Colston near the sideline, but the receiver threw an illegal forward pass. The penalty resulted in a :10 runoff, which ended the game.
"You know how close you got and so, it stings even more than if, like last year, when you walk away 7-9. You didn't make the playoffs. You weren't that close," Brees added.
For most of the Sean Payton era, many would say Chicago was the most dreaded destination for the New Orleans Saints, especially in big meaningful games. It appears now, however, Seattle has taken its place.
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was in 'Beast Mode,' as he rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Lynch scored his second touchdown on a 31-yard run with less than 3:00 left in the game. However, the Saints defense gave up only 277 total yards to a Seattle offense that averaged 339 yards per game in the regular season.
"They got the big run late because we were in more of an all-out run defense and he was able to make a great cut-back," said head coach Sean Payton. "It's tough to lose. It's tough when you get this far and you're not able to finish."
In the second quarter, running back Mark Ingram fumbled and the Seahawks recovered it on the 24-yard line. Two plays later, Lynch ran 15 yards for his first touchdown. Ingram finished with 49 yards on 10 carries.
"Caught me good, hit on the ball and I just have to have better ball security," said Ingram. "That was critical. They scored a touchdown off of it and I just have to be a lot more secure with the ball."
The Saints defense registered three sacks on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and held him to a career-low 103 yards passing. Wilson completed only nine passes on 18 attempts. He also had 16 yards on three carries.
In the first meeting against the Seahawks, Brees failed to complete a pass longer than 20 yards. And while he did throw for over 300 yards in the rematch, with nearly half of those going to Colston, anyone who watched the game knows those numbers are misleading.
"We had some drives that were right on the outskirts of field goal range, opportunities to get points, and we weren't able to cash in. And obviously, in a game like this when every point, every opportunity, counts so much, you have to be able to take advantage of those," Brees explained.
Brees finished 24 of 43 passing for 309 yards. He had only completed five passes for 34 yards by halftime. Colston was his go-to receiver on the day. No. 12 hauled in 11 catches for 144 yards. Wide receiver Robert Meachem added two catches for 69 yards.
"I don't remember a lot of negative plays," said offensive lineman Zach Strief. "And yet, drives just stalled on the 50. So, we're not getting points out of it."
Rookie running back Khiry Robinson scored his first career touchdown on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter. He led the team in rushing for the game with a career-high 57 yards on 13 carries. The Saints finished with 108 yards on the ground.
If you're a Saints fan, the first three quarters of the game, in particular, truly defined the word misery. There was absolutely miserable offense from Brees and company in equally horrific weather. The Saints, to their credit, made it a battle in the fourth quarter. But in the end, it was the team's third straight playoff loss on the West Coast.
"At the end of the day, you're just like everybody else, you're going back home and nobody wants to go home right now. So, it's disappointing to make it this far and come up short," Ingram said.
A crazy 52-yard deflection to Meachem put the Saints in position for perhaps the touchdown and game-tying two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter. But that drive, like many others, led to nothing.
"Good thing, they tip the toss, Meachem makes the play, big momentum shift there, big gain. They're a very defense, in all regards. Top-ranked in so many categories. Playing here at home, with that crowd. A lot of reasons why they're one of the best," said Brees.
"At the end of the day, there were some opportunities that we didn't take advantage of and they made more plays," added center Brian de la Puente.
Saints kicker Shayne Graham missed two field goals on the day. He went wide left from 45 yards in the first quarter and from 48 yards in the fourth. Prior to those misses, Graham had been perfect for the Saints, hitting all six of his field goal attempts.
"Obviously, we had the two missed field goals. Unfortunately, we had the one turnover that gave them a touchdown. Otherwise, they just get three field goals and maybe this is a different game," Brees said.
Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka connected on three field goals in the game. He was good from 38 yards, 49 yards and 26 yards respectively.
Wide receiver Percy Harvin left the game in the second quarter with a concussion and did not return. He had three catches for 21 yards. He was also handed the ball once and picked up nine yards.
In the end, it was a nice comeback season for the Saints. The team finished with 12 victories, including a playoff triumph at Philadelphia. But, those late regular season losses - the stinker at St. Louis and the heartbreaker at Carolina - had the Saints playing 2,500 miles away from the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Seahawks (14-3) will play in the NFC Championship against the winner of the Carolina Panthers/San Francisco 49ers NFC Divisional game. The teams face-off Sunday in Charlotte.