1. Seattle is the only team that can stop Seattle
The Seahawks have been the best team in the NFL all season long. When they’re playing at home in the playoffs, they’re even nastier.
The Seahawks showed some of that in the third quarter. Seattle entered the second half with all the momentum and confidence it could have. The Seahawks defense continued to shut down the Saints offense.
But when Seattle had the ball, it wasn’t looking to score. It wanted to milk the clock, and did.
The Saints offense, however, figured it out. In the fourth quarter, New Orleans led a nine-play, 74-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown and two-point conversion to make it a one-score game at 16-8.
The Seahawks played an almost-perfect first half of football. In the second, they got conservative and it almost cost them the game. Quarterback Russell Wilson was 0-for-3 in the third quarter. That’s not aggressive and assertive football.
Moving forward against next week’s opponent, the Carolina Panthers or San Francisco 49ers, Seattle must play a complete game in all four quarters. If it gets a lead, it should look to grow it, not maintain it, because when the Seahawks play their style of football, they’re the best in the NFL.
2. The Saints need to decipher their struggles on the road
The New Orleans Saints won their first road playoff game in franchise history last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, but that was all that New Orleans had to give. The Saints were 3-5 on the road in the regular season.
When they lost control of their division and knew they would have to go on the road to advance in the postseason, the Saints had a chance to eliminate the narrative that they couldn’t win on the road.
Saturday offered the Saints the chance to avenge an embarrassing loss at Seattle from Week 13. Instead, New Orleans played its worst half of the season in its most important game.
Next season, the Saints need to fix this. How? The answer might be in seeking leadership — swagger, even — on the free agency market. You need guys in the huddle who are completely undaunted in those difficult situations.
3. Marshawn Lynch will be the offensive threat to carry Seattle
Russell Wilson is one of the bright, young stars in the NFL, but make no mistake: running back Marshawn Lynch is the team’s leader on offense. At times, it’s not just the stats that he puts up in games, it’s the demoralizing nature of some of his runs.
Lynch finished the game with 28 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He’s Seattle’s workhorse. When he can use his stiff arm and break tackles, defenses feel defeated. It usually leads to more big plays. That was evident in the fourth quarter, when Seattle just gave the ball to Lynch and let him work.
Credit should go to the Saints’ defense for putting up a valiant effort. It did everything it could to keep New Orleans in this game.
But as the Saints offense struggled, the defense was asked to do too much. Stopping Marshawn Lynch proved to be impossible.
Clearly, it’s something of a pattern.
If Seattle makes it to the Super Bowl, it will be on the legs of Lynch.
4. Jimmy Graham cannot disappear in big games
That’s the second time in as many big games against the Seahawks that Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has disappeared. He was a complete non-factor in New Orleans’ loss Saturday. Much of it had to do with Drew Brees playing a poor first half: he threw for 34 yards.
Graham finished the game with one reception for eight yards.
The most imposing tight end in the NFL had eight yards in the biggest game of the season.
Graham is set to be a free agent,but he’ll likely be back with the team. He’s too good not to be.
Next time the Saints have a big game, they have to find a way to get Graham involved, somehow. He needs to be the focal part of the game plan and when he’s active, New Orleans has its best chance to win. He’s perhaps the biggest mismatch in the league; the whole point of Jimmy Graham is that you can throw the ball near him and he will beat his defender (or more often, defenders) to it.
He can’t be a bystander. If he is, chances are Brees and the Saints offense will struggle like it did Saturday.