For the Seahawks, it’s a grudge match one year in the making, even though their foe Saturday had nothing whatsoever to do with it.
It took all of 31 seconds last January in Atlanta for Seattle’s Super Bowl dreams to slip away. A frantic Russell Wilson-engineered comeback was undone by the Falcons in the waning moments, providing the fuel for a season’s worth of motivation.
For the Saints, the galvanizing sting is more recent. Barely more than a month ago, in a much-hyped showdown on Monday night, they were embarrassed by the Seahawks in a 34-7 defeat.
They, too, have burned for a second chance to make it right, which will take place Saturday at the scene of their earlier undoing, CenturyLink Field.
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Call it the Spite Bowl. Though NFL players are experts at finding slights, insults or past humiliations — real or perceived — to drive them going into each game, the stimuli are heightened in the postseason.
And for all the X’s and O’s that will provide a road map toward the outcome at CenturyLink, it’s also true that emotion could have a huge impact on the proceedings. One of the most primal is revenge, and both sides will have a form of that in their tank.
“We never want to feel that feeling again,’’ Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said earlier this week, alluding to the 49-yard field goal by Matt Bryant with eight seconds remaining in Atlanta that turned a 28-27 Seattle lead into a 30-28 loss.
“I think as motivated as New Orleans is from what happened to them last time they came here, we’re just as motivated from what happened in Atlanta. We don’t ever want to go out there and feel that feeling of regret, of disappointment, of anger, of frustration — all those things you felt after that game where you felt you should have won.”
The Seahawks’ reaction to that defeat against the Falcons, which kept them out of the NFC title game, could be summed up in the immediate postgame quotes of two key players.
Red Bryant, the sage defensive stalwart, already was finding fuel in the heartbreak: “Hopefully, it’ll make us tougher. Hopefully, it’ll make us hungrier.”
Wilson, who had set an NFL postseason record for a rookie with his 385 passing yards — 241 of them in the second half — was focused on the 2013 season even before he hit the locker room.
“Walking off the field,” he said, “I got so excited for the next opportunity.”
That next playoff opportunity has arrived. For the Seahawks, the regular season has in many ways been a mere prelude for what starts Saturday: the hoped-for march toward the Super Bowl that got detoured in Atlanta.
“You felt you did everything you can, you did the extra work, you did everything you could in that game and you lost,’’ Sherman said. “I think that’s going to motivate a ton of guys in this game.”
The Saints, meanwhile, are relishing a second chance to revise the outcome of their earlier game in Seattle, in which they allowed the Seahawks to score on all four first-half possessions.
What was supposed to be a battle for NFC supremacy instead turned into a one-sided romp that unleashed the full-throated participation of the CenturyLink crowd, which added another Guinness noise record to its resume.
In an attempt to replicate the anticipated raucous atmosphere, the Saints have been piping in noise all week. And just to authenticate the point, they painted a Seahawks logo at midfield on both their indoor and outdoor practice fields in Metairie, La.
Sherman, however, doesn’t believe the Seattle experience can be duplicated like some sort of science experiment, no matter how high the volume is in practice.
“Some people blare the noise through the speakers, do that noise soundtrack,’’ he said. “I guess if you play that loud enough, it will somewhat simulate it. But to simulate our personnel along with the noise, and everything that comes along with it, is pretty difficult.”
But hearkening back to Jan. 13, 2013 in the Georgia Dome, at least subliminally, won’t be difficult for the Seahawks.
Wilson initially said this week, “You know, I really don’t think about it anymore.”
Then he amended that thought.
“Now it’s the playoffs. Now you think about, OK, the emotions, the feelings that you go through, the energy that was in that stadium. You revert back to that so you have something to grab onto.”
On Saturday at CenturyLink, the Seahawks and the Saints will both try to grab onto the past and shake loose a happier ending.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org