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Seahawks withstand Saints, reach NFC title game

Jan 12, 2014 - 4:05 AM Seattle, WA ( - Pete Carroll may be the quintessential West Coast guy, but his Seattle Seahawks are definitely in a New York state of mind.

The NFC's No. 1 seed moved within one game of a trip to the outskirts of Manhattan for Super Bowl XLVIII after holding off the New Orleans Saints with a 23-15 decision in a conference Divisional Playoff at a stormy and soggy CenturyLink Field.

Seattle used a familiar formula to reach the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the 2005 season. Workhorse running back Marshawn Lynch churned out 140 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, while the NFL's top- ranked defense kept Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints well under wraps with another stifling performance.

Russell Wilson managed just 103 yards on 9-of-18 passing, running a Seattle offense that generated next to nothing for much of the second half, but had a turnover-free game as Lynch and the defense made a 16-0 halftime lead stand up.

The Saints made it very interesting, however. Brees hit Marques Colston for a 9-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left to cut the difference to 23-15, and New Orleans recovered the ensuing onside kickoff before ultimately running out of time at the Seattle 38-yard line.

"I'm proud of the way our guys competed," said New Orleans head coach Sean Payton. It's always tough when you get this far and you're not able to finish."

The Seahawks will face either Carolina or San Francisco in next Sunday's conference title game at their hostile home of CenturyLink Field, where they've gone an intimidating 16-1 in Wilson's two years as the starting quarterback.

"Whoever is coming in here, just be ready to play," said Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant. "Because we damn sure will be."

Brees finished 24-of-43 for 309 yards and the late touchdown pass for a Saints squad coming off its first-ever road playoff victory last week in Philadelphia, while top target Jimmy Graham was held to only one catch that came in the game's final seconds.

Colston had 11 catches for 144 yards, while Khiry Robinson rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts.

The Saints came in determined to avoid a repeat of their last visit to CenturyLink Field, when they fell behind 17-0 after one quarter on the way to a 34-7 shellacking. However, several miscues and failed executions put them in another tough early hole they never quite got out of.

Steven Hauschka's first of three field goals, a 38-yarder on Seattle's initial drive, was set up by a 16-yard shank by New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead and a personal foul penalty on safety Rafael Bush for launching at a defenseless Percy Harvin on a third-down pass. The Saints moved inside the Seahawks' 30 on the following possession, but came up empty when Shayne Graham pulled a 45- yard field goal try wide left.

Seattle then marched back into New Orleans territory, keyed by Golden Tate's 13-yard catch over the middle on 3rd-and-4, to position Hauschka for a 49-yard kick that extended the lead to 6-0 late in the first quarter.

The second quarter began with another Saints' error, as Mark Ingram fumbled on the opening snap and Michael Bennett recovered for Seattle at the opposing 27- yard line. Two snaps later, Lynch took a shotgun handoff and powered his way in for a 15-yard score and a 13-0 Seahawks' advantage.

Bobby Wagner batted down a Brees pass on fourth down later in the period to thwart another New Orleans scoring chance, and Wilson proceeded to lead a 12- play, 63-yard series that furthered the margin.

Harvin made a leaping 16-yard grab on third down and Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse shortly afterward for a 25-yard gain to the Saints' 15. A defensive holding call on Keenan Lewis gave the Seahawks a 1st-and-goal from the three later on, though the New Orleans defense held to force Hauschka on for a 26- yard field goal 1:18 prior to halftime.

New Orleans endured more frustration during the third quarter, having its first two second-half drives stopped in Seattle's end, before finally getting untracked near the end of the frame.

Brees connected on a pair of deep strikes, a 23-yarder to backup tight end Josh Hill and a 25-yarder to Colston, during a 9-play, 74-yard sequence Robinson capped with a determined 1-yard run with 13:11 remaining. Ingram barreled across on the subsequent conversion attempt to suddenly bring the Saints within one score.

However, more problems ensued to prevent New Orleans from inching closer. A long catch by Kenny Stills to the Seattle 28 was wiped out by a holding penalty on the Saints' next trek, which ended in a punt. On their following drive, Shayne Graham missed badly on a 48-yard field goal try and the Seahawks took over with 3:51 left.

"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," Brees remarked. "In a game like this where every point opportunity counts so much, you've got to be able to take advantage of those."

After Wilson delivered a clutch 24-yard completion to Doug Baldwin, Lynch seemingly put the game away by ripping off a 31-yard run to the end zone that gave Seattle a 23-8 lead with 2:40 to go.

"We got a great look and it was an incredibly perfect throw," said Carroll of Baldwin's acrobatic catch down the sidelines. "It's a catch that Doug has made all year, and it couldn't have been more clutch."

Brees' TD strike to Colston on a fourth-down play kept New Orleans' hopes alive, and the Saints had even more life when Shayne Graham's onside squibber bounced off Tate's chest and Colston pounced on the ball at his own 41.

Colston was called for an illegal forward lateral upon making his final grab at the Seattle 38 with under 10 seconds showing, however, with the resulting run-off leaving New Orleans out of time for another play.

Game Notes

Harvin, playing in just his second game since undergoing offseason hip surgery, had three catches for 21 yards but was held out the entire second half after sustaining a concussion ... The Seahawks have now win six straight postseason games at CenturyLink Field, with their last home playoff loss coming to St. Louis in the 2004 Wild Card Round ... Pierre Thomas, New Orleans' leading rusher during the regular season, was inactive for a second straight week due to a chest injury ... New Orleans converted just 3-of-12 third-down opportunities ... The Sa