Difference between 6-10 and 10-6 teams: a handful of plays
Fans of losing teams often dont take much solace from the bromide, but another vivid example was offered Saturday:
In a given NFL season, the difference between teams with records of 6-10 and 10-6 is often no more than a handful of plays.
Drew Brees was nearly sick over how that truth played out in a single game between his 11-5 Saints and the 7-9 Seahawks.
The MVP of the Super Bowl couldnt get over the fact that his Saints made it into the Seahawks red zone seven times but came away with only four touchdowns, settling for field goals three times.
Seven times, he repeated for emphasis. Just imagine if we could have gotten one more touchdown out of those three (stops by Seattles defense).
They didnt play like a 7-9 team today . . . they played great.
Great? Brees greatness remark was a compliment, not an analysis. Certainly, the Seahawks played well enough, and deserved to move on in the NFL playoffs. But another axiom, often championed by the king of axioms, former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox, also prevailed Saturday.
It not who you play, he would say, but when you play em.
In this case, that meant the Seahawks played the Saints when they ran out of running backs. Conversely, the Saints played the Seahawks after they discovered how to run the ball.
Already missing their top two rushers, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, the Saints appeared to have a good alternative in Pete Carroll’s one-time student, Reggie Bush. But Bush had only 12 yards in five carries before limping off with a leg bruise. They were down to fourth-stringer Julius Jones, the ex-Seahawk who had just 48 yards for the Saints this season.
Saturday, he had a respectable 59 yards and two touchdowns, but by the end of the game, he was hurt, too. The unsteady rushing attack couldnt keep Brees from having to heave the ball 60 times.
Asked if the missing rushers affected playcalling, New Orleans coach Sean Payton said, Yes, but the runners handled it pretty well. It wasnt until the second half that we got hampered with Reggie going down and Julius going down.
Its been one of those seasons where, at that position, we had a number of injuries. But yet that wasnt the difference today.
Translation from coach-speak: It was a big deal.
Just as it was a big deal in Seattle most of the season when its rushing game was hampered by a steady personnel churn along the offensive line.
But in the last two games with a healthier Russell Okung at left tackle and greater familiarity in the group, the Seahawks ran for 141 yards against St. Louis and 149 yards against the Saints, with one lost fumble. In do-or-die games where possessions and ball security are even more vital, the Seahawks suddenly blossomed in a crucial aspect of the game.
Why, tight end John Carlson was asked, did the running game flourish in the last two weeks after a 16-week flounder?
Thats a really good question, said Carlson, appearing sincere. I dont know.
It may have been as simple as steady applications of time and practice that reached fruition at seasons end. Which, for the Saints, and the Rams before them, turned into cases of bad timing.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck deservedly was hailed for his passing feats, but the Seahawks had 100 yards less passing Saturday than in the first meeting in New Orleans, a 34-19 loss. Because the Seahawks could move the ball a bit on the ground, they could choose to pass instead of having little choice.
To extend Knoxs point a step further, not only is it when you play an opponent, its where.
Thats where things get tough this weekend for the Seahawks. No more home earache. They must play the Bears in Chicago.
The home-field advantage that accrues to division winners in the first round is why Carroll talked endlessly about the importance of being kings of the NFC West. That much-derided division is now 9-5 in the playoffs since 2005, the best division record in the NFL.
An immeasurable but undeniable part of Saturdays stunner was Qwest Fields noise harbor. Brees was hip to Seattles home playoff record.
Five and one is pretty stout, he said. That lets you know how hard it is to come here and get a victory. It makes it a very tough home-field advantage.
This is definitely one of the loudest places in the league. Not just at moments, but consistently, throughout the entire game. Great fans.
While the atmosphere was familiar for Seahawks, here was the outside observation from the Cold Hard Football Facts website:
Seeing a game at Qwest Field should be added to any NFL fans bucket list. Sure, maybe we got a bit burned out on Seattle in the 1990s when the hype machine was cranking all things Pacific Northwest at us. Nirvana, Starbucks, all that alternative jazz.
You dont hear as much about Seattle these days. But the sight of the architecturally awesome Qwest Field filled with greenish-blue throngs screaming was a hell of a thing to behold. There might be better franchises and better teams out there, but being a Seahawk fan looks like an awful lot of fun when things go right.
After a season largely of dreariness, fun arrived hard and fast in seven days. As Knox always knew, it was less about who, than when.