Seattle is so afraid to believe in anything, or anyone, especially related to sports. The day before our city’s first NFL playoff game in three years is ushered in by an article on the front page of the Seattle Times mocking our city and our team. Nobody cares about this game, and those that do, don’t have any faith that the Seahawks can win. People are too busy sipping their americanos and shuttling their kids to private schools, the writer contends, to be bothered by an uninspiring team playing a game they have little hope of winning. Forget East Coast bias. Northwest apathy is a far bigger problem.
At some point, it became fashionable to be conservative with your emotions, to be realistic above hopeful. A casual glance at this game would tell you the Seahawks are over-matched. They have lost 7 of their last 10 games, only beaten teams below .500 in that stretch, and have lowly rankings on offense and defense. The Saints, on the other hand, are the defending world champs, have already beaten the Hawks this year, and boast one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. What’s fascinating and exciting about competition in sports is that the formula for winning has so many variables that even the slightest change can lead to vastly different results. Almost every variable that has changed from these teams first meetings tilts heavily toward Seattle.
The Saints are known as a passing team with Drew Brees running the show, but they are 3-4 since week three of this season when rushing for under 100 yards as a team. Their best running back has not been Reggie Bush. Not only has he been injured, but he’s been largely ineffective with only one touchdown all season, and only one game where he rushed for over 39 yards. The best runner has been Chris Ivory, the kid who ran through the Seahawks in the first game, and brandished a 5.2 average gain per carry. Ivory is out injured. So is the only other credible inside rushing threat, Pierre Thomas. Their replacement will be some of Julius Jones, who managed four yards on four carries in the last game these teams played, and some guys the Saints signed off of practice squads of other teams this week. Even if Ivory and/or Thomas had been healthy, the Seahawks have added Colin Cole back to defense, and only one team has been able to rush for over 100 yards since he returned. The Saints will struggle to get 75 yards on the ground Saturday.
Seattle put up a paltry 58 yards rushing in the first game. They hung 141 yards on the Rams last week. Marshawn Lynch fumbled twice against the Saints and will be running with a vengeance. The Saints run defense is a weakness. They allow over 110 yards/game and more than 4 yard per carry. The Seahawks will run the ball on them Saturday, and limit the times Brees is on the field. The Seahawks have not lost a game all season when they win the time of possession battle.
Matt Hasselbeck will make what could be his last home start as the best quarterback in the history of the Seahawks franchise. He is one win from tying Dave Krieg for most wins. He is one win from sealing his legacy. He is one day away from getting the recognition and respect he deserves from Seahawks fans who will cheer him like the champion he is. There will be no chants of “Charlie” when he makes a mistake. Seahawks fans know this isn’t the time for cynicism and wandering loyalty. This is the time when our combined voices will carry these players to new heights, and they will carry us along with them.
New Orleans has never won a road playoff game. They have never played in the thrashing torrent of noise they will experience on Saturday. The electricity is back in Qwest Field, and the Saints are going to feel it like lightning bolts striking them in waves. The Saints don’t win when they turn the ball over more than their opponent. Brees has thrown an interception in 12 straight games. New Orleans will lose the turnover battle. They will lose this game.
Leon Washington was born to play in games like this. No part of the Saints team will play tighter than their well below-average special teams. They enter the game knowing they have to play better than they normally do to contain the NFL’s best return man. They will not play better. While they concentrate on not making a mistake, they will run slower, they will not see the crushing block Matt McCoy or Michael Robinson is going to lay on them. They will see Leon’s vapor trail as he bursts by them for a game-changing return.
Saturday is going to be a glorious day for Seahawks fans. Take pride in what this team can do. Relish the opportunity to defy the networks, the NFL and the rest of country. Rise up and crash down on the Saints with every fiber of your being. Expect the best, and then do your part to make it happen.