The showdown for NFC supremacy turned instead into a showcase for the Seahawks.
And in the process of all-but-clinching home-field advantage in the NFC throughout the playoffs with a dominating 34-7 victory over the New Orleans Saints, the Seahawks also sent another loud message about their place atop the NFL hierarchy, just in case their league-best 11-1 record hadn’t already said enough.
“We knew it’s Monday Night Football and a big stage and we had to come out and just make a statement and put on a show,’’ said linebacker K.J. Wright.
That they did with a start-to-finish domination in front of a record crowd of 68,387 at CenturyLink Field that also set another Guinness noise record. The victory also officially clinched a playoff berth.
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Seattle now has a two-game lead on the Saints and Carolina Panthers, who at 9-3 are the two closest pursuers in the NFC with four games to play.
But having already beaten both, the Seahawks have what is essentially a three-game lead in the NFC, and seem almost assured of being at home for the playoffs.
Wright, whose role in defending New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham was key in the Seahawks allowing the Saints just 147 passing yards — the Saints’ fewest since 2010 — said the stakes of the game weren’t really on anyone’s mind as it was being played.
But once it was over, Wright said the implications began to sink in.
“If we get home field in the playoffs, it’s going to be real, real bad for other teams,’’ Wright said.
That sounds more like fact than boast after the way the Seahawks toyed with the Saints in a highly hyped Monday night game that was never in doubt.
The Seahawks — showing no signs of rustiness following their bye and no signs of distraction after the suspension of defensive back Walter Thurmond — used a flurry of big plays on both sides of the ball to jump on the Saints early and often, grabbing leads of 17-0 at the end of the first quarter and 27-7 at halftime.
From there, they cruised to their seventh consecutive victory this season.
Seattle scored on all four of its first-half possessions in the first half — two touchdowns on passes from Russell Wilson and two Steven Hauschka field goals — and also got a 22-yard return of a fumble by Michael Bennett for a TD to blow the game open early.
Given the opponent and setting, it was Seattle’s best half of the season as the Seahawks had 315 yards to just 90 for the Saints, who came in allowing 309.9 and gaining 415 per game, each among the top five in the NFL.
For the game, Seattle had 429 yards total offense to 188 for New Orleans.
Wilson, 22 of 30 for 310 yards, said he saw it coming.
“I texted coach (Pete) Carroll on Sunday and said the way we practiced this week is the best we have ever had,’’ Wilson said. “So that preparation was big and I really think it showed up tonight.’’
That preparation was never more apparent than on one of the game’s defining plays, a 52-yard pass from Wilson to Doug Baldwin on a third-down play after the Saints had cut the lead to 17-7. The play, that set up a Seattle field goal, was one of a handful of times the Seahawks caught the Saints in a blitz.
“Throughout the week we saw some things on tape that we wanted to take advantage of,’’ Baldwin said. “We knew (Saints defensive coordinator) Rob Ryan was a different coordinator in that he runs some different coverages in the open field that just aren’t normal, yet at the same time he brings pressure. So we wanted to take advantage of those opportunities when we got them.’’
Seattle, though, moved at will from the beginning. A 61-yard drive on the opening possession led to a Hauschka field goal.
The game began to turn for good when on the Saints’ next drive, New Orleans faced a third-and-five on its own 25. Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril knocked the ball away from Saints quarterback Drew Brees before he threw it and it landed in the hands of Bennett, who caught it at the 22 and returned it for a touchdown to make it 10-0.
“Obviously, those are plays that swing games,’’ said Saints coach Sean Payton.
On Seattle’s next drive, Wilson rolled out right on a play-action pass and hit Zach Miller for 60 yards on a third-and-one play. That set up a 2-yard touchdown throw to Miller that made it 17-0.
Proof that it was simply Seattle’s night came midway through the third quarter when a Wilson pass deflected off the hands of tight end Kellen Davis and directly to Derrick Coleman, who caught it and dived into the end zone to make it 34-7.
“Well, we had a blast tonight,’’ Carroll said. “Just a really good night.’’
One that might resonate well into February.
|Race for No. 1|
|The Seahawks solidified their standing in the NFC with four games to go and also maintained the NFL’s best record.|
|NFC playoff seeding||Record|
|2. New Orleans Saints||9-3|
|3. Detroit Lions||7-5|
|4. Dallas Cowboys||7-5|
|5. Carolina Panthers||9-3|
|6. San Francisco 49ers||8-4|
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org