Hawks stun Saints 41-36 in playoffs

Hawks stun Saints 41-36 in playoffs
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll leads his team in cheering in a post-game huddle after they upset the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
SEATTLE (AP) — In a scene straight out of college, Pete Carroll stood in the middle of a pile on the midfield logo, jumping up and down with his players celebrating in unison.

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Those labels stuck on the seven-win Seattle Seahawks — jokes, lightweights, laughingstocks — no longer fit Saturday.

That's when Carroll's rowdy crew sent the defending Super Bowl champions packing, pulling one of the most unlikely upsets in playoff history, a 41-36 win over the New Orleans Saints.

Who Dat moving on in the NFC playoffs? It's the Seahawks.

"It didn't matter what I said to them, or what was said outside, and all of the story lines and all that, they just did not buy it," Carroll said. "Where that came from? If I knew that, we'd have something special here. It came out of an attitude and it came out of a faith in one another."

Matt Hasselbeck threw four touchdown passes and Marshawn Lynch scored on an electrifying 67-yard run with 3:22 left to clinch the first playoff victory by a losing team.

The Seahawks (8-9) held a 34-20 early in the fourth quarter before Drew Brees looked ready to lead the Saints (11-6) on one of their patented comebacks. But Lynch broke a half-dozen tackles for his TD and a few anxious minutes later, the party was on at Qwest Field, the NFL's loudest stadium.

Seattle, the first division winner with a losing record, will play next weekend, either at top-seeded Atlanta or No. 2 Chicago.

It's a trip no one outside Seattle's locker room expected to happen.

"I assume people are going to say it was more about what the Saints didn't do and not what we did, or that the Saints lost the game, not us winning it," Seattle wide receiver Mike Williams said. "Whatever is said it doesn't matter. What matters is the direction our team is in and the focus the guys have in the locker room."

Seattle didn't just beat the defending champions. They outgunned and outscored Brees, energizing a crowd that just a week wasn't sure who the quarterback should be.

Last Sunday, Hasselbeck watched as backup Charlie Whitehurst led the Seahawks to the NFC West title with a win over St. Louis. Hasselbeck was only cleared to go as the starter Thursday and even had fluid drained from his hip.

Hasselbeck rallied Seattle from 10-0 and 17-7 deficits, putting together a 24-3 run in the second and third quarters as the Seahawks surged ahead.

Hasselbeck threw a pair of touchdowns to tight end John Carlson — who had one TD during the regular season. He found Brandon Stokley on a 45-yard TD late in the second quarter, then found Williams for 38 yards on the first drive of the second half to give Seattle a 31-20 lead.

Hasselbeck threw for 272 yards and the four TDs set a playoff career high. It was quite a show by Hasselbeck, whose contract expires after the season. He walked off the field to a rousing ovation with his son propped on his shoulders.

"It wasn't just one thing, it felt like everyone did a little something to help us get the win," Hasselbeck said. "It was just an awesome feeling."

But for all Hasselbeck did, the lasting image of this stunner will be Lynch's run that clinched the victory.

Lynch took a second-down carry with less than four minutes to go and then the highlights began. Eight different Saints' got their hands on Lynch as he shed six tackles. Lynch added a massive stiff arm that sent cornerback Tracy Porter to the turf and dived backward into the end zone on the longest scoring run of his career.

Hasselbeck said if that play gets 4 yards "you're patting yourself on the back." Lynch finished with 131 yards on 19 carries, the first Seattle back to top 100 yards all season.

"That was the most unbelievable, unrealistic play I've ever seen in the history of football," Seattle linebacker Aaron Curry said. "It was just unreal. It seems just like a routine football play, then he takes it to another level."

Hasselbeck, Lynch and a strong performance by Seattle's offense extended the Saints franchise misery to 0-4 in road playoff games.

The Saints were considered the second-best team in the conference behind the NFC South-winning Falcons. Even though they lost to Tampa Bay in the season finale a week ago and were without running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, safety Malcolm Jenkins and linebacker Danny Clark, the Saints were favored by 10 points to advance.

Now they go home.

"It's not fun," Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said.

Brees, who completed a playoff-record 39 passes in 60 attempts for 404 yards and two TDs, still couldn't match Hasselbeck and the Seahawks offense. Brees led one final drive, hitting Devery Henderson on a 6-yard touchdown with 1:30 left to get within 41-36.

But DeShawn Wynn was stopped on the 2-point conversion, Garrett Hartley's onside kick was recovered by Carlson and the Seahawks were left to celebrate.

"It's disappointing. It starts with us and myself and the rest of the coaches," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I thought they had effort but in the end, not enough to win this game. It's disappointing to get in the postseason and finish with a loss to start."

Reggie Bush finished with five carries for 12 yards, caught five passes and did not play in the fourth quarter. Bush said he was hit near where he broke his leg earlier in the season, but X-rays were negative.

Julius Jones, cut by Seattle earlier in the season, ran for two short touchdowns and finished with 120 all-purpose yards, but was "dinged" in a collision with Lofa Tatupu in the fourth quarter that left Tatupu with a concussion.

In the second half, Brees threw on 33 of the Saints' 41 plays as he tried to rally the Saints from a two-touchdown deficit. Jones' 4-yard TD run with 13:11 left pulled the Saints within 34-27, but they had to settle for Hartley's 21-yard field goal on the next drive after Henderson was tackled short on a third-down pass at the Seattle 4.

Seattle got a first down on its next drive when Hasselbeck hit Stokley for 12 yards, but Hasselbeck was sacked by Scott Shanle on second down and Seattle was forced to punt with under six minutes remaining. The 52-yard punt by Jon Ryan, plus a penalty on the return, backed the Saints to their own 6 with 5:36 left.

Brees couldn't convert on third-and-8 at his 19 and the Saints punted with 4:29 left and just one timeout. Lynch's run then gave Seattle an 11-point lead, a big enough advantage that one last Brees rally couldn't top.

"The underdog role, I think we cherished it and kind of took it to heart," Seattle's Marcus Trufant said. "Nobody gave us a chance and we just kind of shrugged our shoulder. We knew we were going to come out and play our ball."

Notes: Seattle WR Ben Obomanu dislocated his right shoulder in the first quarter, but after getting examined, returned to the game. He caught five passes for 43 yards. ... The Saints last playoff road game was the 2006 NFC championship, a 39-14 loss at Chicago. ... Seattle has won its last five playoff games at Qwest Field.